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The Census Bureau has a master glossary of definitions covering all topics, censuses, surveys, and programs.

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Income & Poverty Terms in the Glossary

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Income & Poverty Terms Not in the Glossary

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Absolute Poverty Thresholds vs. Relative Poverty Thresholds (Relative Poverty Thresholds)

As explained by a National Academy of Sciences panel, "Absolute thresholds are fixed at a point in time and updated solely for price changes.... In contrast, relative thresholds, as commonly defined, are developed by reference to the actual expenditures (or income) of the population." See Citro and Michael, eds., Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (National Academy Press, 1995), page 31, "Types of Poverty Thresholds."

Absolute thresholds are based on a fixed set of goods that are considered necessary for survival, regardless of time or place.  Year to year, the only thing that changes in the absolute threshold is the price of this set of goods.  Relative thresholds are based on a set of goods that people need for survival in a particular year, and may change over time.  Year to year, both the set of goods and the prices of those goods change in the threshold.

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Annual Poverty Rate

Percent of people who were in poverty in a calendar year. Annual poverty rates from the Current Population Survey and the decennial census long form are based on income reported as an annual figure. In the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), income is reported monthly. Therefore, in the SIPP, annual poverty rates are calculated using the sum of family income over the year divided by the sum of poverty thresholds that can change from month to month if one's family composition changes.

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Average Monthly Poverty (Monthly Poverty)

Average percent of people in poverty per month for a given year of a longitudinal survey panel. See also longitudinal survey data.

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Chronic or Long-term Poverty

Percent of people in poverty every month for the duration of a longitudinal survey panel (typically 3 to 4 years). See also longitudinal survey data.

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Cross-sectional Survey Data

Data from a survey in which a new group of respondents is sampled for each interview, instead of following the same group of respondents over time. The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC), the American Community Survey (ACS), and the decennial census long form are cross-sectional surveys. See also longitudinal survey data.

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Entrance Rate

Percent of people who were not in poverty during the first year of a longitudinal survey, but were in poverty in a subsequent year. Based on an annual poverty measure. See also longitudinal survey data.

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Episodic Poverty

Percent of people who were poor in 2 or more consecutive months in a given time period. Episodic poverty can only be calculated using monthly longitudinal survey data. See also longitudinal survey data.

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Equivalence Scale

The numerical relationship by which poverty thresholds vary for families of different sizes and compositions.

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Federal Poverty Level (FPL)

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, "The poverty guidelines are sometimes loosely referred to as the 'federal poverty level' (FPL), but that phrase is ambiguous and should be avoided, especially in situations (e.g., legislative or administrative) where precision is important." [, last accessed March 24, 2016.] See also poverty guidelines.

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Highest Grade Attended

The highest grade attended by the persons with job accessions is as of the beginning of the survey and is based on the following question: "What is the highest grade or year of regular school this person has attended?"

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Hourly Rate of Pay

The hourly rate of pay refers to the rate of pay received at the time of first job accession. It is obtained by two direct quesions: :"Was ... paid by the hour on this job?" and "What was ...'s regular hourly pay rate at the end of (read last month or 'to' date item 3b)?" Given the 4-month reference period in SIPP, it is conceivable that a could could have taken an hourly paid job in the first month of the reference period, received a raise during the reference period, and, therefore, not report the wage rate at which he or she entered."

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Income Deficit

Income deficit is the amount,  in dollars, that the income of a family in poverty (or unrelated individual) falls below its poverty threshold. If family income is negative, the deficit is equal to the threshold.

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Income Surplus

Income surplus is the amount, in dollars, between the income of a family or unrelated individual above the poverty level and its poverty threshold.

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The industry of the first job accession is based on the census industrial classification system which was developed within the context of the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system prepared by the Office of Management and Budget. Thirteen major groups were used: agriculture, forestry and fisheries; mining; construction; manufacturing; transportation, communications, and public utilites; wholesale trade; retail trade; finance, insurance and real estae; business and repair services; personal services; enterainment and recreation services; professional and related services, and public administration. The definitions of the goods-producing industries and high paying and low paying service-producing industries can be found in the text.

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Job Accession

In this report, a job accession was defined as not having a job in month but having a job in the following month. The method for identifying whether or not a person had a job in the course of a month was the "employer id number". In the course of a SIPP interview, if a respondent reported that a  job had been held during a month (either by himself or herself, or for someone else in the household), an employer id number is assigned to that individual's wage and salary job; if no job were held, the employerid number would be zero. The definition was made operational, therefore, by comparing month-to-month values of the employer id nymber across the 28-month survey period . Obviously, a number of jobs could have been held and numerous employer id numbers recorded. (In each SIPP interview, interviewers are instructed to"...enter the employer for whom... worked the most hours during the 4-month period or the most recent employer.") On the SIPP 1987 longitudinal file up to two jobs can be identified ( or two employer id numbers recorded) in the course of any one month. This situation may represent either a transition from one primary job to another or a case of multiple job holding. In the first instance, although a new job had been entered, it would not be counted as a job accession under the definition used in this report. In the second instance, where a person has taken a second job, the job accession would not be countedeither. This is because only the primary or main job is included in the definition.

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Longitudinal Survey Data

Data from a survey in which the same respondents are interviewed multiple times, using the same set of questions, over a period of time (a panel). The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) is a longitudinal survey. While cross-sectional data have been compared to "snapshots" in that differences between two cross-sectional estimates are based on two different samples of people, longitudinal data instead allow the analyst to observe how the status of the same group of people changes over time--for instance, by observing the average number of months a person falls below the poverty level, or by observing the demographic characteristics of people who enter and leave poverty. In that sense, longitudinal data have been compared to "videos." See, for instance, Mary Naifeh, "Dynamics of Economic Well-Being, Poverty, 1993-94: Trap Door? Revolving Door? Or Both?"

See chronic or long-term poverty.

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Monthly Family Income

Persons were classified as members of a married-couple family, other family type, or as an unrelated individual as of the time of the first job accession. Their monthly family income, therefore, represents the sum of all cash income received by the individual and/or other family members. It may represent income from employment, assets (such as CD's, rental property, savings accounts), and other sources (such as Social Security, Aid to Families With Dependent Children, pensions , State unemployment compensation, and so on).

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National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Panel

The National Research Council's Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance: Concepts, Information Needs, and Measurement Methods. The panel was composed of a group of scholars appointed by the National Research Council  who co-authored a publication in 1995, Measuring Poverty: A New Approach (National Academy Press, 1995), that recommended alternative methods for measuring poverty. The Census Bureau has conducted research to refine some of the panel's measurement methods and to examine how its recommendations would affect the number in poverty and the poverty rate.

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Population Coverage

The estimates in this report are restricted to persons 16 years of age and over in the civilian noninstutional resident population of the United States and members of the Armed Forces living off post or withtheir families on post.

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Poverty Areas

Poverty areas are census tracts or block numbering areas (BNA's) where at least 20 percent of residents were below the poverty level.

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Poverty in the Past 12 Months

The American Community Survey collects data on a rolling basis every month throughout the year, and therefore measures poverty in the previous 12 months instead of the previous calendar year.

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Poverty Rate

The percentage of people (or families) who are in poverty.

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Poverty Spell (Spells of Poverty)

Measured using monthly panel data from a longitudinal survey (excluding spells underway in the first interview month of the panel). Minimum spell length is defined as 2 months and Multiple spells are separated by 2 or more months of not being in poverty.

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Poverty Thresholds (Threshold)

The dollar amount the Census Bureau uses to determine a family's or person's poverty status.

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Poverty Universe

Persons for whom the Census Bureau can determine poverty status (either "in poverty" or "not in poverty"). For some persons, such as unrelated individuals under age 15, poverty status is not defined. Since Census Bureau surveys typically ask income questions to persons age 15 or older, if a child under age 15 is not related by birth, marriage, or adoption to a reference person within the household, we do not know the child's income and therefore cannot determine his or her poverty status. For the decennial censuses and the American Community Survey, poverty status is also undefined for people living in college dormitories and in institutional group quarters. People whose poverty status is undefined are excluded from Census Bureau poverty tabulations. Thus, the total population in poverty tables--the poverty universe--is slightly smaller than the overall population. See also, unrelated individuals, group quarters.

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Race and Hispanic Origin

In this report, the population is divided into two groups on the basis of races: White and Black. Persons of Hispanic origin were determined on the basis of a question that asked for self-identification of the person's origin (or some other household member) from a flahcard listing ethnic origins. Hispanics were those who indicated thattheir origin was Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or some other Hispanic origin. Persons of Hispanic origin can be of any race.

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Ratio of Income to Poverty (Income-to-Poverty Ratio)

People and families are classified as being in poverty if their income is less than their poverty threshold. If their income is less than half their poverty threshold, they are below 50% of poverty; less than the threshold itself, they are in poverty (below 100% of poverty); less than 1.25 times the threshold, below 125% of poverty, and so on.

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Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates

The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) program produces single-year model based estimates of income and poverty for states and counties, and population and poverty estimates for school districts. The estimates are provided for the administration of federal programs and the allocation of federal funds to local jurisdictions.

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Weekly Earnings

Weekly wage and salary earnings relate to the month in which a person experiencd their first job accssion. They were obtained by dividing the monthly earnings reported in the month in which the job accession occurred by the number of weeks worked by the individual in the month.

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Working Poor

The Census Bureau does not use the term "working poor." The term "working poor" may mean different things to different data users, based on the question they are trying to answer, such as:

  1. People who worked, but who, nevertheless, fell under the official definition of poverty. See table POV22 of our Detailed Poverty Tables.
  2. People who were in poverty and had at least one working family member. See table POV10 of our Detailed Poverty Tables.
  3. People who may not necessarily be "in poverty" according to the official measure of poverty, but who fall below some percentage of the poverty level (for instance, 200 percent of poverty). See also ratio of income to poverty.

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