Data Dictionary: Census 1990
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Survey: Census 1990
Data Source: Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau
Table: T97. Ratio Of Income In 1989 To Poverty Level [7]
Universe: Persons for whom poverty status is determined
Table Details
T97. Ratio Of Income In 1989 To Poverty Level
Universe: Persons for whom poverty status is determined
Variable Label
Relevant Documentation:
Excerpt from: Social Explorer, U.S. Census Bureau; Census of Population and Housing, 1990: Summary Tape File 3 on CD-ROM [machine-readable data files] / prepared by the Bureau of the Census. Washington: The Bureau [producer and distributor], 1991.
Percentages, Rates, and Ratios
These measures are frequently presented in census products to compare two numbers or two sets of measurements. These comparisons are made in two ways: (1) subtraction, which provides an absolute measure of the difference between two items, and (2) the quotient of two numbers, which provides a relative measure of difference.

Excerpt from: Social Explorer, U.S. Census Bureau; Census of Population and Housing, 1990: Summary Tape File 3 on CD-ROM [machine-readable data files] / prepared by the Bureau of the Census. Washington: The Bureau [producer and distributor], 1991.
Income in 1989
The data on income in 1989 were derived from answers to questionnaire items 32 and 33. Information on money income received in the calendar year 1989 was requested from persons 15 years old and over. "Total income" is the algebraic sum of the amounts reported separately for wage or salary income; net nonfarm self-employment income; net farm self-employment income; interest, dividend, or net rental or royalty income; Social Security or railroad retirement income; public assistance or welfare income; retirement or disability income; and all other income. "Earnings" is defined as the algebraic sum of wage or salary income and net income from farm and nonfarm self-employment. "Earnings" represent the amount of income received regularly before deductions for personal income taxes, Social Security, bond purchases, union dues, medicare deductions, etc.

Receipts from the following sources are not included as income: money received from the sale of property (unless the recipient was engaged in the business of selling such property); the value of income "in kind" from food stamps, public housing subsidies, medical care, employer contributions for persons, etc.; withdrawal of bank deposits; money borrowed; tax refunds; exchange of money between relatives living in the same household; gifts and lump-sum inheritances, insurance payments, and other types of lump-sum receipts.

Income Type in 1989
The eight types of income reported in the census are defined as follows:

Wage or Salary Income
Includes total money earnings received for work performed as an employee during the calendar year 1989. It includes wages, salary, Armed Forces pay, commissions, tips, piece-rate payments, and cash bonuses earned before deductions were made for taxes, bonds, pensions, union dues, etc.

Nonfarm Self-Employment Income
Includes net money income (gross receipts minus expenses) from one's own business, professional enterprise, or partnership. Gross receipts include the value of all goods sold and services rendered. Expenses includes costs of goods purchased, rent, heat, light, power, depreciation charges, wages and salaries paid, business taxes (not personal income taxes), etc.

Farm Self-Employment Income
Includes net money income (gross receipts minus operating expenses) from the operation of a farm by a person on his or her own account, as an owner, renter, or sharecropper. Gross receipts include the value of all products sold, government farm programs, money received from the rental of farm equipment to others, and incidental receipts from the sale of wood, sand, gravel, etc. Operating expenses include cost of feed, fertilizer, seed, and other farming supplies, cash wages paid to farmhands, depreciation charges, cash rent, interest on farm mortgages, farm building repairs, farm taxes (not State and Federal personal income taxes), etc. The value of fuel, food, or other farm products used for family living is not included as part of net income.
Interest, Dividend, or Net Rental Income
Includes interest on savings or bonds, dividends from stockholdings or membership in associations, net income from rental of property to others and receipts from boarders or lodgers, net royalties, and periodic payments from an estate or trust fund.

Social Security Income
Includes Social Security pensions and survivors benefits and permanent disability insurance payments made by the Social Security Administration prior to deductions for medical insurance, and railroad retirement insurance checks from the U.S. Government. Medicare reimbursements are not included.

Public Assistance Income
Includes: (1) supplementary security income payments made by Federal or State welfare agencies to low income persons who are aged (65 years old or over), blind, or disabled; (2) aid to families with dependent children, and (3) general assistance. Separate payments received for hospital or other medical care (vendor payments) are excluded from this item.

Retirement or Disability Income
Includes: (1) retirement pensions and survivor benefits from a former employer, labor union, or Federal, State, county, or other governmental agency; (2) disability income from sources such as worker's compensation; companies or unions; Federal, State, or local government; and the U.S. military; (3) periodic receipts from annuities and insurance; and (4) regular income from IRA and KEOGH plans.

All Other Income
Includes unemployment compensation, Veterans Administration (VA) payments, alimony and child support, contributions received periodically from persons not living in the household, military family allotments, net gambling winnings, and other kinds of periodic income other than earnings.

Income of Households
Includes the income of the householder and all other persons 15 years old and over in the household, whether related to the householder or not. Because many households consist of only one person, average household income is usually less than average family income.

Income of Families and Persons
In compiling statistics on family income, the incomes of all members 15 years old and over in each family are summed and treated as a single amount. However, for persons 15 years old and over, the total amounts of their own incomes are used. Although the income statistics covered the calendar year 1989, the characteristics of persons and the composition of families refer to the time of enumeration (April 1990). Thus, the income of the family does not include amounts received by persons who were members of the family during all or part of the calendar year 1989 if these persons no longer resided with the family at the time of enumeration. Yet, family income amounts reported by related persons who did not reside with the family during 1989 but who were members of the family at the time of enumeration are included. However, the composition of most families was the same during 1989 as in April 1990.

Median Income
The median divides the income distribution into two equal parts, one having incomes above the median and the other having incomes below the median. For households and families, the median income is based on the distribution of the total number of units including those with no income. The median for persons is based on persons with income. The median income values for all households, families, and persons are computed on the basis of more detailed income intervals than shown in most tabulations. Median household or family income figures of $50,000 or less are calculated using linear interpolation. For persons, corresponding median values of $40,000 or less are also computed using linear interpolation. All other median income amounts are derived through Pareto interpolation. (For more information on medians and interpolation, see the discussion under "Derived Measures.")

Mean Income
This is the amount obtained by dividing the total income of a particular statistical universe by the number of units in that universe. Thus, mean household income is obtained by dividing total household income by the total number of households. For the various types of income the means are based on households having those types of income. "Per capita income" is the mean income computed for every man, woman, and child in a particular group. It is derived by dividing the total income of a particular group by the total population in that group.

Care should be exercised in using and interpreting mean income values for small subgroups of the population. Because the mean is influenced strongly by extreme values in the distribution, it is especially susceptible to the effects of sampling variability, misreporting, and processing errors. The median, which is not affected by extreme values, is, therefore, a better measure than the mean when the population base is small. The mean, nevertheless, is shown in some data products for most small subgroups because, when weighted according to the number of cases, the means can be added to obtained summary measures for areas and groups other than those shown in census tabulations.

Limitation of the Data
Since questionnaire entries for income frequently are based on memory and not on records, many persons tended to forget minor or irregular sources of income and, therefore, underreport their income. Underreporting tends to be more pronounced for income sources that are not derived from earnings, such as Social Security, public assistance, or from interest, dividends, and net rental income.

There are errors of reporting due to the misunderstanding of the income questions such as reporting gross rather than net dollar amounts for the two questions on net self-employment income, which resulted in an overstatement of these items. Another common error is the reporting of identical dollar amounts in two of the eight type of income items where a respondent with only one source of income assumed that the second amount should be entered to represent total income. Such instances of overreporting had an impact on the level of mean nonfarm or farm self-employment income and mean total income published for the various geographical subdivisions of the State.

Extensive computer editing procedures were instituted in the data processing operation to reduce some of these reporting errors and to improve the accuracy of the income data. These procedures corrected various reporting deficiencies and improved the consistency of reported income items associated with work experience and information on occupation and class of worker. For example, if persons reported they were self-employed on their own farm, not incorporated, but had reported wage and salary earnings only, the latter amount was shifted to net farm self-employment income. Also, if any respondent reported total income only, the amount was generally assigned to one of the type of income items according to responses to the work experience and class-of-worker questions. Another type of problem involved nonreporting of income data. Where income information was not reported, procedures were devised to impute appropriate values with either no income or positive or negative dollar amounts for the missing entries. (For more information on imputation, see Appendix C, Accuracy of the Data.)

In income tabulations for households and families, the lowest income group (e.g., less than $5,000) includes units that were classified as having no 1989 income. Many of these were living on income "in kind," savings, or gifts, were newly created families, or families in which the sole breadwinner had recently died or left the household. However, many of the households and families who reported no income probably had some money income which was not recorded in the census. The income data presented in the tabulations covers money income only. The fact that many farm families receive an important part of their income in the form of "free" housing and goods produced and consumed on the farm rather than in money should be taken into consideration in comparing the income of farm and nonfarm residents. Non-money income such as business expense accounts, use of business transportation and facilities, or partial compensation by business for medical and educational expenses was also received by some nonfarm residents. Many low income families also receive income "in kind" from public welfare programs. In comparing income data for 1989 with earlier years, it should be noted that an increase or decrease in money income does not necessarily represent a comparable change in real income, unless adjustments for changes in prices are made.

The income data collected in the 1980 and 1970 censuses are similar to the 1990 census data, but there are variations in the detail of the questions. In 1980, income information for 1979 was collected from persons in approximately 19 percent of all housing units and group quarters. Each person was required to report:

Wage or salary income
Net nonfarm self-employment income
Net farm self-employment income
Interest, dividend, or net rental or royalty income
Social Security income
Public assistance income
Income from all other sources

Between the 1980 and 1990 censuses, there were minor differences in the processing of the data. In both censuses, all persons with missing values in one or more of the detailed type of income items and total income were designated as allocated. Each missing entry was imputed either as a "no" or as a dollar amount. If total income was reported and one or more of the type of income fields was not answered, then the entry in total income generally was assigned to one of the income types according to the socioeconomic characteristics of the income recipient. This person was designated as unallocated.

In 1980 and 1990, all nonrespondents with income not reported (whether heads of households or other persons) were assigned the reported income of persons with similar characteristics. (For more information on imputation, see Appendix C, "Accuracy of the Data.")

There was a difference in the method of computer derivation of aggregate income from individual amounts between the two census processing operations. In the 1980 census, income amounts less than $100,000 were coded in tens of dollars, and amounts of $100,000 or more were coded in thousands of dollars; $5 was added to each amount coded in tens of dollars and $500 to each amount coded in thousands of dollars. Entries of $999,000 or more were treated as $999,500 and losses of $9,999 or more were treated as minus $9,999. In the 1990 census, income amounts less than $999,999 were keyed in dollars. Amounts of $999,999 or more were treated as $999,999 and losses of $9,999 or more were treated as minus $9,999 in all of the computer derivations of aggregate income.

In 1970, information on income in 1969 was obtained from all members in every fifth housing unit and small group quarters (less than 15 persons) and every fifth person in all other group quarters. Each person was required to report:

Wage or salary income
Net nonfarm self-employment income
Net farm self-employment income
Social Security or Railroad Retirement
Public assistance or welfare payments
Income from all other sources

If a person reported a dollar amount in wage or salary, net nonfarm self-employment income, or net farm self-employment income, the person was considered as unallocated only if no further dollar amounts were imputed for any additional missing entries.

In 1960, data on income were obtained from all members in every fourth housing unit and from every fourth person 14 years old and over living in group quarters. Each person was required to report wage or salary income, net self-employment income, and income other than earnings received in 1959. An assumption was made in the editing process that no other type of income was received by a person who reported the receipt of either wage and salary income or self-employment but who had failed to report the receipt of other money income.

For several reasons, the income data shown in census tabulations are not directly comparable with those that may be obtained from statistical summaries of income tax returns. Income, as defined for Federal tax purposes, differs somewhat from the Census Bureau concept. Moreover, the coverage of income tax statistics is different because of the exemptions of persons having small amounts of income and the inclusion of net capital gains in tax returns. Furthermore, members of some families file separate returns and others file joint returns; consequently, the income reporting unit is not consistently either a family or a person.

The earnings data shown in census tabulations are not directly comparable with earnings records of the Social Security Administration. The earnings record data for 1989 excluded the earnings of most civilian government employees, some employees of nonprofit organizations, workers covered by the Railroad Retirement Act, and persons not covered by the program because of insufficient earnings. Furthermore, earnings received from any one employer in excess of $48,000 in 1989 are not covered by earnings records. Finally, because census data are obtained from household questionnaires, they may differ from Social Security Administration earnings record data, which are based upon employers' reports and the Federal income tax returns of self-employed persons.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the Department of Commerce publishes annual data on aggregate and per-capita personal income received by the population for States, metropolitan areas, and selected counties. Aggregate income estimates based on the income statistics shown in census products usually would be less than those shown in the BEA income series for several reasons. The Census Bureau data are obtained directly from households, whereas the BEA income series is estimated largely on the basis of data from administrative records of business and governmental sources. Moreover, the definitions of income are different. The BEA income series includes some items not included in the income data shown in census publications, such as income "in kind," income received by nonprofit institutions, the value of services of banks and other financial intermediaries rendered to persons without the assessment of specific charges, Medicare payments, and the income of persons who died or emigrated prior to April 1, 1990. On the other hand, the census income data include contributions for support received from persons not residing in the same household and employer contributions for social insurance.

Excerpt from: Social Explorer, U.S. Census Bureau; Census of Population and Housing, 1990: Summary Tape File 3 on CD-ROM [machine-readable data files] / prepared by the Bureau of the Census. Washington: The Bureau [producer and distributor], 1991.
Poverty Status in 1989
The data on poverty status were derived from answers to the same questions as the income data, questionnaire items 32 and 33. (For more information, see the discussion under "Income in 1989.") Poverty statistics presented in census publications were based on a definition originated by the Social Security Administration in 1964 and subsequently modified by Federal interagency committees in 1969 and 1980 and prescribed by the Office of Management and Budget in Directive 14 as the standard to be used by Federal agencies for statistical purposes.

At the core of this definition was the 1961 economy food plan, the least costly of four nutritionally adequate food plans designed by the Department of Agriculture. It was determined from the Agriculture Department's 1955 survey of food consumption that families of three or more persons spend approximately one-third of their income on food; hence, the poverty level for these families was set at three times the cost of the economy food plan. For smaller families and persons living alone, the cost of the economy food plan was multiplied by factors that were slightly higher to compensate for the relatively larger fixed expenses for these smaller households.

The income cutoffs used by the Census Bureau to determine the poverty status of families and unrelated individuals included a set of 48 thresholds arranged in a two-dimensional matrix consisting of family size (from one person to nine or more persons) cross-classified by presence and number of family members under 18 years old (from no children present to eight or more children present). Unrelated individuals and two-person families were further differentiated by age of the householder (under 65 years old and 65 years old and over).

The total income of each family or unrelated individual in the sample was tested against the appropriate poverty threshold to determine the poverty status of that family or unrelated individual. If the total income was less than the corresponding cutoff, the family or unrelated individual was classified as "below the poverty level." The number of persons below the poverty level was the sum of the number of persons in families with incomes below the poverty level and the number of unrelated individuals with incomes below the poverty level.

The poverty thresholds are revised annually to allow for changes in the cost of living as reflected in the Consumer Price Index. The average poverty threshold for a family of four persons was $12,674 in 1989. (For more information, see table A below.) Poverty thresholds were applied on a national basis and were not adjusted for regional, State or local variations in the cost of living. For a detailed discussion of the poverty definition, see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 171, Poverty in the United States: 1988 and 1989.

Table A Poverty Thresholds in 1989 by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years
  Related children under 18 years
Size of Family Unit Weight average thresholds None One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight or more
One person (unrelated individual) $6,310                  
Under 65 years 6,451 $6,451                
65 years and over 5,947 5,947                
Two persons 8,076                  
Householder under 65 years 8,343 8,303 $8,547              
Householder 65 years and                    
over 7,501 7,495 8,515              
Three persons 9,885 9,699 9,981 $9,990            
Four persons 12,674 12,790 12,999 12,575 $12,619          
Five persons 14,990 15,424 15,648 15,169 14,798 $14,572        
Six persons 16,921 17,740 17,811 17,444 17,092 16,569 $16,259      
Seven persons 19,162 20,412 20,540 20,101 19,794 19,224 18,558 $17,828    
Fight persons 21,328 22,830 23,031 22,617 22,253 21,738 21,084 20,403 $20,230  
Nine or more persons 25,480 27,463 27,596 27,229 26,921 26,415 25,719 25,089 24,933 $23,973

Persons for Whom Poverty Status is Determined
Poverty status was determined for all persons except institutionalized persons, persons in military group quarters and in college dormitories, and unrelated individuals under 15 years old. These groups also were excluded from the denominator when calculating poverty rates.

Specified Poverty Levels
Since the poverty levels currently in use by the Federal Government do not meet all the needs of data users, some of the data are presented for alternate levels. These specified poverty levels are obtained by multiplying the income cutoffs at the poverty level by the appropriate factor. For example, the average income cutoff at 125 percent of poverty level was $15,843 ($12,674 x 1.25) in 1989 for a family of four persons.

Weighted Average Thresholds at the Poverty Level
The average thresholds shown in the first column of table A are weighted by the presence and number of children. For example, the weighted average threshold for a given family size is obtained by multiplying the threshold for each presence and number of children category within the given family size by the number of families in that category. These products are then aggregated across the entire range of presence and number of children categories, and the aggregate is divided by the total number of families in the group to yield the weighted average threshold at the poverty level for that family size.

Since the basic thresholds used to determine the poverty status of families and unrelated individuals are applied to all families and unrelated individuals, the weighted average poverty thresholds are derived using all families and unrelated individuals rather than just those classified as being below the poverty level. To obtain the weighted poverty thresholds for families and unrelated individuals below alternate poverty levels, the weighted thresholds shown in table A may be multiplied directly by the appropriate factor. The weighted average thresholds presented in the table are based on the March 1990 Current Population Survey. However, these thresholds would not differ significantly from those based on the 1990 census.

Income Deficit
Represents the difference between the total income of families and unrelated individuals below the poverty level and their respective poverty thresholds. In computing the income deficit, families reporting a net income loss are assigned zero dollars and for such cases the deficit is equal to the poverty threshold.

This measure provided an estimate of the amount which would be required to raise the incomes of all poor families and unrelated individuals to their respective poverty thresholds. The income deficit is thus a measure of the degree of impoverishment of a family or unrelated individual. However, caution must be used in comparing the average deficits of families with different characteristics. Apparent differences in average income deficits may, to some extent, be a function of differences in family size.

Mean Income Deficit
Represents the amount obtained by dividing the total income deficit of a group below the poverty level by the number of families (or unrelated individuals) in that group.

The poverty definition used in the 1990 and 1980 censuses differed slightly from the one used in the 1970 census. Three technical modifications were made to the definition used in the 1970 census as described below:
  1. The separate thresholds for families with a female householder with no husband present and all other families were eliminated. For the 1980 and 1990 censuses, the weighted average of the poverty thresholds for these two types of families was applied to all types of families, regardless of the sex of the householder.
  2. Farm families and farm unrelated individuals no longer had a set of poverty thresholds that were lower than the thresholds applied to nonfarm families and unrelated individuals. The farm thresholds were 85 percent of the corresponding levels for nonfarm families in the 1970 census. The same thresholds were applied to all families and unrelated individuals regardless of residence in 1980 and 1990.
  3. The thresholds by size of family were extended from seven or more persons in 1970 to nine or more persons in 1980 and 1990.
These changes resulted in a minimal increase in the number of poor at the national level. For a complete discussion of these modifications and their impact, see the Current Population Reports, Series P-60, No. 133.

The population covered in the poverty statistics derived from the 1980 and 1990 censuses was essentially the same as in the 1970 census. The only difference was that in 1980 and 1990, unrelated individuals under 15 years old were excluded from the poverty universe, while in 1970, only those under 14 years old were excluded. The poverty data from the 1960 census excluded all persons in group quarters and included all unrelated individuals regardless of age. It was unlikely that these differences in population coverage would have had significant impact when comparing the poverty data for persons since the 1960 censuses.

Current Population Survey
Because of differences in the questionnaires and data collection procedures, estimates of the number of persons below the poverty level by various characteristics from the 1990 census may differ from those reported in the March 1990 Current Population Survey.