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Income in the ACS: Comparisons to the 1990 Census

Kirby G. Posey and Edward Welniak
Component ID: #ti1386616910

Last revised: June 17, 1999

Component ID: #ti2121459777

Adjusting 1996 ACS Income Data and Comparing Estimates to the 1990 Census

The long-term goal of the American Community Survey (ACS) is to produce more timely local area estimates. Currently, the only sources of Census Bureau local area income estimates are the decennial census (data only once every ten years) and the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program (biennial county and state estimates of median household income). We designed the battery of income questions as well as the edit and allocation specifications for the ACS to be as similar as possible to that of the Census in order to evaluate the ACS's performance. There are, of course, some differences inherent with the ACS that forced us to make some changes. The most notable change between the Census and the ACS is the reference period, "past 12 months" versus "last calendar year." Other differences include a slight change in the questionnaire and some changes in the edit and allocation process. The purpose of this paper is to explain these differences and provide a preliminary overview of the ACS results.

In the 1990 Census, a battery of eight detailed income questions and a total income question were posed to all persons 15 years old and over. The eight detailed income questions included (1) wages and salary, (2) non-farm self-employment income, (3) farm self-employment income, (4) interest, dividend, and net royalty income, (5) social security, (6) Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), or other public assistance income, (7) retirement, survivor, or disability income, and (8) any other sources of income received on a regular basis. These eight income questions were placed at the end of each set of person questions on the long form (sample) questionnaire so that response levels to the other less sensitive sample questions would not be adversely impacted. A "total income" question was first asked in the 1980 Census to aid in the resolution of income entry problems in the detailed questions. Test results indicated that a sizable number of all income recipients furnished responses to the total income question, but failed to provide answers to some or all parts of the detailed type of income questions, proving the total income item very important.

We used the same battery of income questions including the total income item in the ACS with a few exceptions (see Table 1.) First of all, we combined the non-farm self- employment income item with the farm self-employment income item. We did this mainly because the number of respondents reporting farm self-employment income was small. This should not hinder analysts from identifying farm income recipients because we can still determine this number from other labor force related questions such as "occupation of longest job." We used this combined self-employment format in the 1998 Dress Rehearsal and we are planning to use it in the 2000 census as well.

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