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Income vs. Earnings

Income and earnings are often confused. In reality, earnings are just one kind of income.

Every year, the Census Bureau collects data on how much money households obtain from 50 different sources, all of which we label “income.” Earnings, primarily wages and salary from a job, are usually a big source of income. Other sources of income include Social Security payments, pensions, child support, public assistance, annuities, money derived from rental properties, interest and dividends.

During the 2009 calendar year, median household income totaled $49,800, which did not differ from the previous year. Median means half of households had income more than this amount, and half less. The total indicates the amount of money everyone 15 years and older living in the household collectively brought in that year.

When we examine earnings, we find big differences by the gender of workers. Among people who worked year-round and full-time in 2009, men earned a median of $47,100 and women $36,300 or 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Earnings actually increased between 2008 and 2009 for both sexes.

Over the years, researchers and analysts have used these annual income and earnings estimates to chart the effectiveness of government programs, gauge the economic well-being of the country, develop marketing strategies for business and assess the impact of changing demographic patterns. These numbers are considered the most timely and accurate national data on income.

Respondents in our surveys may feel uneasy giving information on personal subjects like income. Not to worry, though. All Census Bureau employees take an oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life not to share confidential data with anyone.

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