We ask questions about the funds a person receives from various sources to create statistics about income, assistance, earnings, and poverty status.
Local, state, tribal, and federal agencies use our published income data to plan and fund programs that provide economic assistance for populations in need. Income data measure the economic well-being of the nation. In conjunction with poverty estimates, these data are often part of funding formulas that determine the distribution of food, health care, job training, housing, and other assistance.
We appreciate the suggestion to use financial information provided by taxpayers to the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) for responses to the ACS. However, information from the IRS are not as current as the information we collect. The Census Bureau uses data from other government agencies for research and evaluations to improve our surveys and censuses, reduce survey costs, respondent burden, and to better understand the information we are collecting. We also use this information to help develop estimates of the population between census years. The Census Bureau cannot rely solely on other agencies' data instead of your responses for several reasons:
First, these data-called administrative records-do not contain the data for everyone.
Second, we cannot obtain all of the required data from administrative records.
Third, data may not be usable because of differences in collection periods or definitions.
We designed the ACS to provide up-to-date information for federal and state agencies. For more information on the Census Bureau's use of administrative data, visit the Combining Data and Data Linkage pages.
We ask two questions that cover each type of income that you receive, as well as your total income. These statistics create a profile of the type and distribution of income in a community.
We compile the results from these questions to provide communities with important statistics to help plan economic assistance. You can see some of these published statistics here for the nation, states, and your community.
We ask about income and housing costs to understand whether housing is affordable in local communities. When housing is not sufficient or not affordable, income data helps communities:
We calculate poverty status and ask about age and disability status to help communities ensure older people receive appropriate assistance, such as financial assistance with utilities (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program).
We ask about income, the number and age of children in families, and health insurance status to help communities enroll eligible families in programs designed to assist them. Income data determines eligibility and funding in programs like Medicaid, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Head Start.
School districts make long-term building, staffing, and funding decisions based on how many children and adults depend on services. We calculate poverty status and ask about school enrollment, disability status, and language spoken at home to qualify schools for grants that help fund programs for students with needs for additional services or assistance (including free/reduced price school lunches) (Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965).
We ask about income, employment, and housing costs to qualify communities for loan and grant programs designed to:
Income questions originated with the 1940 Census, as a way to understand the financial situation of Americans in the wake of the Great Depression. After undergoing years of testing, they were transferred to the ACS in 2005 when it replaced the decennial census long form. In 2019, modifications were made to questions about retirement income. Research about this modification and copies of previous questionnaires are available on the ACS website.