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Census Bureau Statistics Measure Equity Gaps Across Demographic Groups

David Waddington

With today’s release of income, poverty, and health insurance coverage statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau adds to the voluminous amount of data previously released that help to measure topics related to equity.

These data show how different segments of the population are making gains or are impacted by the pandemic or the recent economic recession.

These data show how different segments of the population are making gains or are impacted by the pandemic or the recent economic recession.

For example, the income and poverty report shows median household income for Black households ($45,870) lagging other race and Hispanic groups while the median income of Asian households ($94,903) was the highest for the reported groups in 2020.

But the change in median household income from 2019 to 2020 - when the pandemic hit the United States – was not statistically significant for Black households while it declined by 4.5% from $99,400 in 2019 to $94,903 in 2020 for Asian households.

 

Median household income and percent change by selected characteristics

Inequality Measures

The income and poverty report provides several measures of inequality. The key ones are the Gini index and shares of aggregate household income by quintiles.

The Gini index — typically calculated before taxes — is a commonly used measure of income inequality ranging from 0.0 to 1.0. It measures the amount that any two incomes differ, on average, relative to mean income. A value of 0.0 represents perfect equality and a value of 1.0 indicates total inequality.

The Gini index estimated using pre-tax money income was 0.489 in 2020, not statistically different from 2019.

The report also provides an estimate of the Gini index using after-tax income. This enables one to take into account the impact of the economic stimulus packages enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. This after-tax Gini index was 0.428 in 2020, a decrease from the after-tax measure for 2019 of 0.442. This represents a decrease in inequality.

Looking at the shares of aggregate income by percentile, the lowest quintile (20% of households) received just 3.0% of pre-tax aggregate income in 2020 while the highest quintile received 52.2% of aggregate income.

Using after-tax income, the numbers are still skewed toward the higher quintile but the estimates are 4.2% and 47.1%, respectively, for the lowest and highest quintiles.

Poverty Measures

The Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure provides another key measure of poverty and the impact of programs like Social Security and nutrition assistance on reducing poverty.

Like the official poverty measure, the SPM found the poverty rate in 2020 was higher for the Black (14.6%) and Hispanic (14.0%) populations than for the White (8.1%) and Asian (8.8%) populations. 

These stats are among many socioeconomic equity indicators the Census Bureau regularly releases.

For example, in August, we released a report that detailed the dynamics of poverty. The report describes patterns of poverty over time, providing data by race, household type, and education level.

This report found that from January 2013 to December 2016, the average poverty spell was 11.1 months, and that 34.0% of the population were in poverty for at least two months and 2.8% for all 48 months studied in the longitudinal survey.

Gender Equity

The Census Bureau also reports on the female-to-male earnings ratio, which it began measuring in the 1960s when women earned about 60% of men’s earnings. That ratio has over the decades but remained at 83.0% in 2020.

 

 

Additional information about the gap in women’s earning is available in this America Counts story on essential workers and these infographics on women’s earnings and STEM jobs.

Health Insurance Coverage

In 2020, those ages 65 and over without health insurance remained the lowest at 1.0% because most in that age group are eligible for and enroll in Medicare.  

In contrast, children under 19 had an uninsured rate of 5.6%.

The Black and Hispanic populations had the highest uninsured rates at 10.4% and 18.3%, respectively. The uninsured rate for the non-Hispanic White population in 2020 was 5.4%.

Education

Educational attainment is a key indicator of success and the Census Bureau’s annual educational attainment and school enrollment tables provide valuable information on educational attainment by race, sex and region and on how school enrollment is changing.

Our reports on school enrollment and educational attainment also inform equity across demographic groups over time.

In 2015, greater percentages of Black, Hispanic and Asian students were enrolled in college than during the prerecession period of 2000-2007. For example, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment increased greatly, as the percentage of 15- to 34-year-olds enrolled in undergraduate college increased from 11.9% in 2000 to 18.4% in 2015.

From 2005–2009 to 2015–2019, the percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree increased for all race groups. However, growth in bachelor’s degree attainment varied by race, with each race group following a different pattern.

Race groups with relatively low levels of bachelor’s degree attainment experienced higher levels of growth (percentage change) in attainment compared with race groups that started with higher levels of education.

For example, Black alone, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone, and Some Other Race alone groups all saw the percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees expand by 20% or more.

Plus, Hispanics or Latinos (of any race) and those identifying as Two or More races had bachelor’s degree attainment increase by 30% or more from 2005–2009 to 2015–2019.

Wealth

Wealth is an important indicator that provides valuable insights into a household’s economic well-being.

For example, a household’s wealth can help weather financial hardships, such as unemployment, illness or divorce. Recent wealth data are available in table form as well as in reports and provide data by selected characteristics, such as race, household structure and poverty status.

The Survey of Income and Program Participation shows the net worth of households with a Black householder (the person who owns or rent the home) was $9,567 in 2017, while the net worth of households with a non-Hispanic White householder was $171,700.

Households with one or more members with a disability had a net worth of $84,020 versus $117,300 for households with no members with a disability. And although home value is often associated with higher wealth households, even when the value of the home is excluded, homeowners still had a significantly higher estimated net worth than renters: $109,000 versus $3,035.

Homeownership

Homeownership plays a central role in building wealth and financial stability for many households.  

Recent data show a small uptick in homeownership rates from a low following the foreclosure crisis that began in 2007, but also persistent differences in homeownership by race and ethnicity.

Estimates from the Housing Vacancy Survey show that 65.4% of U.S. households owned their homes in the second quarter of 2021, up 2.5 percentage points from the post-foreclosure low of 62.9% in the second quarter of 2016.

In the second quarter of 2021, the homeownership rate was 74.2% among White alone households, 44.6% among Black alone households, 47.5% among Hispanic households, and 56.2% among households of other races and ethnicities.

The Housing Vacancy Survey allows for quarterly tracking of changes in these, and other housing-related statistics.

Community Resilience

Our newly developed Community Resilience Estimates (CRE) provide a deeper look at how well communities can adapt and respond to natural disasters and other emergencies such as the pandemic.

A newly released dashboard allows users to drill down to community level geography to identify vulnerable populations and examine the socioeconomic characteristics of the populations.

Many of these statistics (from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, the American Community Survey or the Survey of Income and Program Participation) are available for 15 or more years and provide not only a current measure but changes over time.

Research

The Census Bureau continues to explore many aspects of equity, using all census, survey and administrative data. 

For example, one recent report examined intergenerational mobility by location and race linking 1940 Census data to Internal Revenue Service data. This analysis found that the places that were associated with better and worse outcomes were relatively persistent over time for White children but not for Black children.

Another project studied how the Earned Income Tax Credit affected the socioeconomic standing of children who grew up in households affected by the policy.

 

David Waddington is chief of the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division.


Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the U.S.

 

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America Counts tells the stories behind the numbers in a new inviting way. We feature stories on various topics such as families, housing, employment, business, education, the economy, emergency management, health, population, income and poverty.

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