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Census.govPopulation Income Main Income Methodology › Guidance About Income Sources

Guidance About Income Sources

The Census Bureau reports income estimates from several major national household surveys and programs:

Each of these surveys differs from the others in some ways, such as the length and detail of its questionnaire, the number of households included (sample size), and the methodology used to collect and process the data. The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program uses statistical models to produce income and poverty estimates by combining survey results with administrative records.

As a result of this multiplicity of sources, it is important to understand that different surveys and methods, which are designed to meet different needs, also produce different results.

Which Data Source To Use

The CPS ASEC is the preferred source for national analysis (see chart shown below). It provides the most timely and most accurate cross-section data for the nation on income and poverty and is the official source of national poverty estimates. The ACS is preferred for subnational data on income and poverty by detailed demographic characteristics, because of its large sample size. The Census Bureau recommends using the ACS for single-year estimates of income and poverty at the state level. (Users looking for consistent state-level trends before 2006 should use the CPS ASEC.) The following materials provide more information on income data from the CPS ASEC and ACS.

For substate areas, like counties, users should consider their specific needs when picking the appropriate data source. The SAIPE program produces overall poverty and household income single-year estimates with standard errors usually smaller than direct survey estimates. Users looking to compare estimates of the number and percentage of people in poverty for counties or school districts or the median household income for counties should use SAIPE, especially if the population is less than 65,000. Users who need other characteristics such as poverty among Hispanics or median earnings, should use the ACS, where and when available.

The SIPP is focused on collecting accurate longitudinal income and program participation data to help understand the dynamics of a household’s economic situation. Its timeliness is not comparable since one must wait until after a 3- or 4-year panel has concluded to analyze the longitudinal data.

The chart below summarizes the recommendations at various geographic levels:

Geographic Level Cross-Section Estimates Longitudinal Estimates
Level Year-to-year change
United States CPS ASEC CPS ASEC SIPP
State ACS ACS or
CPS ASEC 2-year averages
SIPP (selected states)
Substate
(Areas with 65,000 or more)
ACS
SAIPE for counties and school districts
ACS
SAIPE for counties and school districts
none
Substate
(Areas with populations of 20,000 to 65,000)
ACS using 3-year period estimates SAIPE for counties and school districts SAIPE for counties none
Substate
(Areas with populations less than 20,000)
Census 2000
SAIPE for counties and school districts
SAIPE for counties none
State-to-Nation comparison CPS ASEC CPS ASEC SIPP

Notes:


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Income |  Last Revised: November 01, 2011