Income in the Past 12 Months
The data on income were derived from answers to Questions 47 and 48, which were asked of the population 15 years old and over. "Total income" is the sum of the amounts reported separately for wage or salary income; net self-employment income; interest, dividends, or net rental or royalty income or income from estates and trusts; Social Security or Railroad Retirement income; Supplemental Security Income (SSI); public assistance or welfare payments; retirement, survivor, or disability pensions; and all other income.
Receipts from the following sources are not included as income: capital gains, 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 individuals, 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 is a vital measure of general economic circumstances. Income data are used to determine poverty status, to measure economic well-being, and to assess the need for assistance. These data are included in federal allocation formulas for many government programs. For instance:
Under the Older Americans Act, funds for food, health care, and legal services are distributed to local agencies based on data about elderly people with low incomes. Data about income at the state and county levels are used to allocate funds for food, health care, and classes in meal planning to low-income women with children.
Income data are used to identify local areas eligible for grants to stimulate economic recovery, run job-training programs, and define areas such as empowerment or enterprise zones.
Under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, income data are used to allocate funds to areas for home energy aid. Under the Community Development Block Grant Program, funding for housing assistance and other community development is based on income and other census data.
Data about poor children are used to allocate funds to counties and school districts. These funds provide resources and services to improve the education of economically disadvantaged children.
In household surveys, respondents tend to underreport income. Asking the list of specific sources of income helps respondents remember all income amounts that have been received, and asking total income increases the overall response rate and thus, the accuracy of the answers to the income questions. The eight specific sources of income also provide needed detail about items such as earnings, retirement income, and public assistance.
Income Type in the Past 12 Months
The eight types of income reported in the American Community Survey are defined as follows:
Wage or salary income includes total money earnings received for work performed as an employee during the past 12 months. 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.
Self-employment income includes both farm and non-farm self-employment income.
Farm self-employment income
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, 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.
Non-farm self-employment income
Non-farm 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 include costs of goods purchased, rent, heat, light, power, depreciation charges, wages and salaries paid, business taxes (not personal income taxes), etc.
Interest, dividends, net rental income, royalty income, or income from estates and trusts
Interest, dividends, 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 survivor benefits, 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.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a nationwide U.S. assistance program administered by the Social Security Administration that guarantees a minimum level of income for needy aged, blind, or disabled individuals. The Puerto Rico Community Survey questionnaire asks about the receipt of SSI; however, SSI is not a federally-administered program in Puerto Rico. Therefore, it is probably not being interpreted by most respondents in the same manner as SSI in the United States. The only way a resident of Puerto Rico could have appropriately reported SSI would have been if they lived in the United States at any time during the past 12-month reference period and received SSI.
Public assistance income includes general assistance and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Separate payments received for hospital or other medical care (vendor payments) are excluded. This does not include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or noncash benefits such as Food Stamps. The terms "public assistance income" and "cash public assistance" are used interchangeably in the 2011 ACS data products.
Retirement, survivor, or disability income
Retirement income includes: (1) retirement pensions and survivor benefits from a former employer; labor union; or federal, state, or local government; and the U.S. military; (2) disability income from 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. This does not include Social Security income.
All other income includes unemployment compensation, worker's compensation, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) payments, alimony and child support, contributions received periodically from people not living in the household, military family allotments, and other kinds of periodic income other than earnings.
See "Public assistance income."
This includes the income of the householder and all other individuals 15 years old and over in the household, whether they are related to the householder or not. Because many households consist of only one person, average household income is usually less than average family income. Although the household income statistics cover the past 12 months, the characteristics of individuals and the composition of households refer to the time of interview. Thus, the income of the household does not include amounts received by individuals who were members of the household during all or part of the past 12 months if these individuals no longer resided in the household at the time of interview. Similarly, income amounts reported by individuals who did not reside in the household during the past 12 months but who were members of the household at the time of interview are included. However, the composition of most households was the same during the past 12 months as at the time of interview.
In compiling statistics on family income, the incomes of all members 15 years old and over related to the householder are summed and treated as a single amount. Although the family income statistics cover the past 12 months, the characteristics of individuals and the composition of families refer to the time of interview. Thus, the income of the family does not include amounts received by individuals who were members of the family during all or part of the past 12 months if these individuals no longer resided with the family at the time of interview. Similarly, income amounts reported by individuals who did not reside with the family during the past 12 months but who were members of the family at the time of interview are included. However, the composition of most families was the same during the past 12 months as at the time of interview.
Income for individuals is obtained by summing the eight types of income for each person 15 years old and over. The characteristics of individuals are based on the time of interview even though the amounts are for the past 12 months.
The median divides the income distribution into two equal parts: one-half of the cases falling below the median income and one-half above the median. For households and families, the median income is based on the distribution of the total number of households and families including those with no income. The median income for individuals is based on individuals 15 years old and over with income. Median income for households, families, and individuals is computed on the basis of a standard distribution. (See the "Standard Distributions" section under "Derived Measures.") Median income is rounded to the nearest whole dollar. Median income figures are calculated using linear interpolation. (For more information on medians and interpolation, see "Derived Measures.")
Aggregate income is the sum of all incomes for a particular universe. Aggregate income is subject to rounding, which means that all cells in a matrix are rounded to the nearest hundred dollars. (For more information, see "Aggregate" under "Derived Measures.")
Mean income is the amount obtained by dividing the aggregate income of a particular statistical universe by the number of units in that universe. For example, mean household income is obtained by dividing total household income by the total number of households. (The aggregate used to calculate mean income is rounded. For more information, see "Aggregate income.")
For the various types of income, the means are based on households having those types of income. For household income and family income, the mean is based on the distribution of the total number of households and families including those with no income. The mean income for individuals is based on individuals 15 years old and over with income. Mean income is rounded to the nearest whole dollar.
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 computed for areas and groups other than those shown in Census Bureau tabulations. (For more information on means, see "Derived Measures.")
Income Quintile Upper Limits
Negative incomes are converted to zero for these measures. These measures are the quintile cutoffs, along with the 95th percentile of the distribution. (For more information on quintiles, see "Derived Measures.")
Means of Household Income by Quintiles
Means of household income by quintiles are calculated by dividing aggregate household income in each quintile by the number of households in each quintile (one-fifth of the total number of households). (For more information on aggregates, see "Aggregate Income." For more information on quintiles, see "Derived Measures.")
Shares of Household Income by Quintiles
Negative incomes are converted to zero for these measures. These measures are the aggregate household income in each quintile as a percentage of the total aggregate household income. (For more information on aggregates, see "Aggregate income." For more information on quintiles, see "Derived Measures.")
Gini Index of Income Inequality
Negative incomes are converted to zero. The Gini index of income inequality measures the dispersion of the household income distribution. (For more information on the Gini index, see "Derived Measures.")
Earnings are defined as the sum of wage or salary income and net income from self-employment. "Earnings" represent the amount of income received regularly for people 16 years old and over before deductions for personal income taxes, Social Security, bond purchases, union dues, Medicare deductions, etc. An individual with earnings is one who has either wage/salary income or self-employment income, or both. Respondents who "break even" in self-employment income and therefore have zero self-employment earnings also are considered "individuals with earnings."
The median divides the earnings distribution into two equal parts: one- half of the cases falling below the median and one-half above the median. Median earnings is restricted to individuals 16 years old and over with earnings and is computed on the basis of a standard distribution. (See the "Standard Distributions" section under "Derived Measures.") Median earnings figures are calculated using linear interpolation. (For more information on medians and interpolation, see "Derived Measures.")
Aggregate earnings are the sum of wage/salary and net self- employment income for a particular universe of people 16 years old and over. Aggregate earnings are rounded to the nearest hundred dollars. (For more information, see "Aggregate" under "Derived Measures.")
Mean earnings is calculated by dividing aggregate earnings by the population 16 years old and over with earnings. (The aggregate used to calculate mean earnings is rounded. For more information, see ''Aggregate earnings.'') Mean earnings is rounded to the nearest whole dollar. (For more information on means, see "Derived Measures.")
Women's Earnings as a Percentage of Men's Earnings
Women's earnings as a percentage of men's earnings is defined as median earnings for females who worked fulltime, year-round divided by median earnings for males who worked full-time, year-round, multiplied by 100. (For more information see "full-time, year-round workers" under "Usual hours worked per weeks worked in the past 12 months" and "Median earnings.")
Per capita income is the mean income computed for every man, woman, and child in a particular group including those living in group quarters. It is derived by dividing the aggregate income of a particular group by the total population in that group. (The aggregate used to calculate per capita income is rounded. For more information, see "Aggregate" under "Derived Measures.") Per capita income is rounded to the nearest whole dollar. (For more information on means, see "Derived Measures.")
Adjusting Income for Inflation
Income components were reported for the 12 months preceding the interview month. Monthly Consumer Price Indices (CPI) factors were used to inflation-adjust these components to a reference calendar year (January through December). For example, a household interviewed in March 2011 reports their income for March 2010 through February 2011. Their income is adjusted to the 2011 reference calendar year by multiplying their reported income by 2011 average annual CPI (January-December 2011) and then dividing by the average CPI for March 2010-February2011.
In order to inflate income amounts from previous years, the dollar values on individual records are inflated to the latest year's dollar values by multiplying by a factor equal to the average annual CPI-U-RS factor for the current year, divided by the average annual CPI-U- RS factor for the earlier/earliest year.
The 1998 ACS questionnaire deleted references to Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) because of welfare law reforms.
In 1999, the ACS questions were changed to be consistent with the questions for the Census 2000. The instructions are slightly different to reflect differences in the reference periods. The ACS asks about the past 12 months, and the questions for the decennial census ask about the previous calendar year.
Since answers to income questions are frequently based on memory and not on records, many people tend to forget minor or sporadic 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 public assistance, interest, dividends, and net rental income.
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 questions associated with work experience and information on occupation and class of worker. For example, if people reported they were self employed on their own farm, not incorporated, but had reported only wage and salary earnings, the latter amount was shifted to self-employment income. Also, if any respondent reported total income only, the amount was generally assigned to one of the types of income questions according to responses to the work experience and class-of-worker questions. Another type of problem involved non- reporting 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 "Accuracy of the Data" on the ACS website www.census.gov/acs
In income tabulations for households and families, the lowest income group (for example, less than $10,000) includes units that were classified as having no income in the past 12 months. Many of these were living on income "in kind," savings, or gifts, were newly created families, or were 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 that was not reported in the American Community Survey.
Users should exercise caution when comparing income and earnings estimates for individuals since the 2006 ACS to earlier years because of the introduction of group quarters. Household and family income estimates are not affected by the inclusion of group quarters.
Users should exercise caution when comparing medians from the 2011 ACS to earlier years. There was a change between 2008 and 2009 1-Year and 3-Year Data Products in Income and Earnings median calculations. Medians above $75,000 were most likely to be affected.
The income data shown in ACS 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 for people 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 tax reporting unit is not consistent with the census household, family, or person units.
The earnings data shown in ACS tabulations are not directly comparable with earnings records of the Social Security Administration (SSA). The earnings record data for SSA excludes the earnings of some civilian government employees, some employees of nonprofit organizations, workers covered by the Railroad Retirement Act, and people not covered by the program because of insufficient earnings. Because ACS data are obtained from household questionnaires, they may differ from SSA earnings record data, which are based upon employers' reports and the federal income tax returns of self-employed people.
The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) 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 ACS products usually would be less than those shown in the BEA income series for several reasons. The ACS data are obtained from a household survey, 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 questions not included in the income data shown in ACS publications, such as income "in kind," income received by nonprofit institutions, the value of services of banks and other financial intermediaries rendered to people without the assessment of specific charges, and Medicare payments. On the other hand, the ACS income data include contributions for support received from people not residing in the same household if the income is received on a regular basis.
In comparing income for the most recent year with income from earlier years, users should note that an increase or decrease in money income does not necessarily represent a comparable change in real income, unless adjusted for inflation.