Data Dictionary: ACS 2007 -- 2009 (3-Year Estimates)
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Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Table: B17018. Poverty Status In The Past 12 Months Of Families By Household Type By Educational Attainment Of Householder [35]
Universe: Families
Table Details
B17018. Poverty Status In The Past 12 Months Of Families By Household Type By Educational Attainment Of Householder
Universe: Families
Variable Label
Relevant Documentation:
Poverty Status of Households in the Past 12 Months
Since poverty is defined at the family level and not the household level, the poverty status of the household is determined by the poverty status of the householder. Households are classified as poor when the total income of the householder's family in the last 12 months is below the appropriate poverty threshold. (For nonfamily householders, their own income is compared with the appropriate threshold.) The income of people living in the household who are unrelated to the householder is not considered when determining the poverty status of a household, nor does their presence affect the family size in determining the appropriate threshold. The poverty thresholds vary depending upon three criteria: size of family, number of children, and, for one- and two- person families, age of the householder.

Question/Concept History
Derivation of the Current Poverty Measure - When the original poverty definition was developed in 1964 by the Social Security Administration (SSA), it focused on family food consumption. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) used its data about the nutritional needs of children and adults to construct food plans for families. Within each food plan, dollar amounts varied according to the total number of people in the family and the family's composition, that is, the number of children within each family. The cheapest of these plans, the Economy Food Plan, was designed to address the dietary needs of families on an austere budget.

Since the USDAs 1955 Food Consumption Survey showed that families of three or more people across all income levels spent roughly one-third of their income on food, the SSA multiplied the cost of the Economy Food Plan by three to obtain dollar figures for total family income. These dollar figures, with some adjustments, later became the official poverty thresholds. Since the Economy Food Plan budgets varied by family size and composition, so too did the poverty thresholds. For two-person families, the thresholds were adjusted by slightly higher factors because those households had higher fixed costs. Thresholds for unrelated individuals were calculated as a fixed proportion of the corresponding thresholds for two-person families. The poverty thresholds are revised annually to allow for changes in the cost of living as reflected in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). The poverty thresholds are the same for all parts of the country; they are not adjusted for regional, state, or local variations in the cost of living.

Limitation of the Data
Beginning in 2006, the population in group quarters (GQ) is included in the ACS. The part of the group quarters population in the poverty universe (for example, people living in group homes or those living in agriculture workers dormitories) is many times more likely to be in poverty than people living in households. Direct comparisons of the data would likely result in erroneous conclusions about changes in the poverty status of all people in the poverty universe. Comparability - Because of differences in survey methodology (questionnaire design, method of data collection, sample size, etc.), the poverty rate estimates obtained from American Community Survey data may differ from those reported in the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, and those reported in Census 2000. Please refer to ( for more details.

Excerpt from: Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey 2007-2009 Summary File: Technical Documentation.
Household Type and Relationship
The data on relationship to householder were derived from answers to Question 2, relationship to the householder, which was asked of all people in housing units. The question on relationship is essential for classifying the population info families and other groups. Information about changes in the composition of the American family, from the number of people living alone to the number of children living with only one parent, is essential for planning and carrying out a number of federal programs, such as families in poverty.

The responses to this question were used to determine the relationships of all persons to the householder, as well as household type (married couple family, nonfamily, etc.). From responses to this question, we were able to determine numbers of related children, own children, unmarried partner households, and multigenerational households. We calculated average household and family size. When relationship was not reported, it was imputed using the age difference between the householder and the person, sex, and marital status.

A household includes all the people who occupy a housing unit. (People not living in households are classified as living in group quarters.) A housing unit is a house, an apartment, a mobile home, a group of rooms, or a single room that is occupied (or if vacant, is intended for occupancy) as separate living quarters. Separate living quarters are those in which the occupants live separately from any other people in the building and which have direct access from the outside of the building or through a common hall. The occupants may be a single family, one person living alone, two or more families living together, or any other group of related or unrelated people who share living arrangements.

Average Household Size
A measure obtained by dividing the number of people in households by the number of households. In cases where people in households are cross-classified by race or Hispanic origin, people in the household are classified by the race or Hispanic origin of the householder rather than the race or Hispanic origin of each individual. Average household size is rounded to the nearest hundredth.

Excerpt from: Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey 2007-2009 Summary File: Technical Documentation.
Educational Attainment
Educational attainment data are needed for use in assessing the socioeconomic condition of the U.S. population. Government agencies also require these data for funding allocations and program planning and implementation. These data are needed to determine the extent of illiteracy rates of citizens in language minorities in order to meet statutory requirements under the Voting Rights Act. Based on data about educational attainment, school districts are allocated funds to provide classes in basic skills to adults who have not completed high school.

Data on educational attainment were derived from answers to Question 11, which was asked of all respondents. Educational attainment data are tabulated for people 18 years old and over. Respondents are classified according to the highest degree or the highest level of school completed. The question included instructions for persons currently enrolled in school to report the level of the previous grade attended or the highest degree received.

The educational attainment question included a response category that allowed people to report completing the 12th grade without receiving a high school diploma. Respondents who received a regular high school diploma and did not attend college were instructed to report "Regular high school diploma". Respondents who received the equivalent of a high school diploma (for example, passed the test of General Educational Development (G.E.D.)), and did not attend college, were instructed to report "GED or alternative credential."

"Some college" is in two categories: "Some college credit, but less than 1 year of college credit" and "1 or more years of college credit, no degree." The category "Associate's degree" included people whose highest degree is an associates degree, which generally requires 2 years of college level work and is either in an occupational program that prepares them for a specific occupation, or an academic program primarily in the arts and sciences. The course work may or may not be transferable to a bachelor's degree. Master's degrees include the traditional MA and MS degrees and field-specific degrees, such as MSW, MEd, MBA, MLS, and MEng. Instructions included in the respondent instruction guide for mailout/mailback respondents only provided the following examples of professional school degrees: Medicine, dentistry, chiropractic, optometry, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, podiatry, veterinary medicine, law, and theology. The order in which degrees were listed suggested that doctorate degrees were "higher" than professional school degrees, which were "higher" than master's degrees. If more than one box was filled, the response was edited to the highest level or degree reported.

The instructions further specified that schooling completed in foreign or ungraded school systems should be reported as the equivalent level of schooling in the regular American system. The instructions specified that certificates or diplomas for training in specific trades or from vocational, technical or business schools were not to be reported. Honorary degrees awarded for a respondent's accomplishments were not to be reported.

High School Graduate or Higher
This category includes people whose highest degree was a high school diploma or its equivalent, people who attended college but did not receive a degree, and people who received an associate's, bachelor's, master's, or professional or doctorate degree. People who reported completing the 12th grade but not receiving a diploma are not included.

Not Enrolled, Not High School Graduate
This category includes people of compulsory school attendance age or above who were not enrolled in school and were not high school graduates. These people may be referred to as "high school dropouts." There is no restriction on when they "dropped out" of school; therefore, they may have dropped out before high school and never attended high school.

Question/Concept History
Since 1999, the American Community Survey question does not have the response category for "Vocational, technical, or business school degree" that the 1996-1998 American Community Surveys question had. Starting in 1999, the American Community Survey question had two categories for some college: "Some college credit, but less than 1 year" and "1 or more years of college, no degree." The 1996-1998 American Community Survey question had one category: "Some college but no degree."

In the 1996-1998 American Community Survey, the educational attainment question was used to estimate level of enrollment. Since 1999, a question regarding grade of enrollment was included.

The 1999-2007 American Community Survey attainment question grouped grade categories below high school into the following three categories: "Nursery school to 4th grade," "5th grade or 6th grade," and "7th grade or 8th grade." The 1996-1998 American Community Survey question allowed a write-in for highest grade completed for grades 1-11 in addition to "Nursery or preschool" and "Kindergarten."

Beginning in 2008, the American Community Survey attainment question was changed to the following categories for levels up to ""Grade 12, no diploma:" "Nursery school," "Kindergarten," "Grade 1 through grade 11," and "12th grade, no diploma." The survey question allowed a write-in for the highest grade completed for grades 1-11. In addition, the category that was previously "High school graduate (including GED)" was broken into two categories: "Regular high school diploma" and "GED or alternative credential." The term credit for the two some college categories was emphasized. The phrase beyond a bachelor's degree was added to the professional degree category.

Limitation of the Data
Beginning in 2006, the population in group quarters (GQ) is included in the ACS. Some types of GQ populations may have educational attainment distributions that are different from the household population. The inclusion of the GQ population could therefore have a noticeable impact on the educational attainment distribution. This is particularly true for areas with a substantial GQ population. The Census Bureau tested the changes introduced to the 2008 version of the educational attainment question in the 2006 ACS Content Test. The results of this testing show that the changes may introduce an inconsistency in the data produced for this question as observed from the years 2007 to 2008, see "2006 ACS Content Test Evaluation Report Covering Educational Attainment" on the ACS website (

New questions were added to the 2008 ACS CATI/CAPI instrument. Respondents who received a high school diploma, GED or equivalent were also asked if they had completed any college credit. Therefore, data users may notice a decrease in the number of high school graduates relative to previous years because those people are now being captured in the "Some college credit, but less than 1 year of college credit" or "1 or more years of college credit, no degree categories." For more information see the report titled Report P.2.b: "Evaluation Report Covering Educational Attainment" on the ACS website (

Data about educational attainment are also collected from the decennial Census and from the Current Population Survey (CPS). ACS data is generally comparable to data from the Census. For more information about the comparability of ACS and CPS data, please see the link for the Fact Sheet and the Comparison Report from the CPS Educational Attainment page.