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Which Data Source to Use for Poverty

The CPS ASEC provides the most timely and accurate national data on income and is the source of official national poverty estimates, hence it is the preferred source for national analysis. Because of its large sample size, the ACS is preferred for subnational data on income and poverty by detailed demographic characteristics. The Census Bureau recommends using the ACS for 1-year estimates of income and poverty at the state level. Users looking for consistent, state-level trends should use CPS ASEC 2-year averages and CPS ASEC 3-year averages for state to state comparisons.

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 1-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 the only Census Bureau source of longitudinal poverty data. As SIPP collects monthly income over 2.5 to 5 year panels, it is also a source of poverty estimates for time periods more or less than one year, including monthly poverty rates.

The chart below summarizes the recommendations at various geographic levels:

Geographic Level Cross-Sectional Estimates Longitudinal Estimates
Income/Poverty Rate Detailed Characteristics Year-to-Year Change

United States



ACS 1-year estimates for detailed race groups




ACS 1-year estimates

CPS ASEC 3-year averages

ACS 1-year estimates

ACS 1-year estimates

Substate (areas with populations of 65,000 or more)

ACS 1-year estimates/

SAIPE for counties and school districts

ACS  1-year estimates

ACS 1-year estimates / SAIPE for counties and school districts


Substate (areas with populations less than 20,000)

SAIPE for counties and school districts/

ACS using 5-year period estimates for all other geographic entities/

Decennial Census 2000 and prior

ACS  5-year estimates/

Decennial Census 2000 and prior

SAIPE for counties  and school districts/

ACS using 5-year period estimates for all other geographic entities1


State-to-Nation comparison





1 Use non-overlapping periods for ACS trend analysis with multiyear estimates. For example, comparing 2006-2010 ACS 5-Year estimates with 2011-2015 ACS 5-Year estimates is preferred for identifying change.

Additional Information

For additional details & links to each survey or program's site, see the Survey & Programs page within this Guidance for Data Users section.

Page Last Revised - June 21, 2023
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