Monday, September 19, 2016

Rural household incomes rose 3.4% in 2015; reports failed to mention change in definitions

Reports last week that said rural households incomes declined in 2015, while rising in all other areas, failed to take into account a change in the way metro and non-metro areas are defined.

Initial analysis of a Census Bureau survey released Tuesday showed that median incomes rose 7.3 percent in metro areas and 4 percent in suburban areas, but dropped 2 percent in rural areas. An American Community Survey (ACS) released on Thursday showed that rural household incomes actually rose 3.4 percent in 2015, Quoctrung Bui reports for The New York Times.

The problem stems from a change in 2015 of the definition of metro and non-metro areas, Isaac Shapiro and Arloc Sherman report for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS) used by the Census Bureau, rural areas consisted of 50 million people in 2014, but only 44 million in 2015. The ACS survey consisted of 42 million people in non-metro areas in 2014 and 44 million in 2015. When using ACS data metro and non-metro areas had nearly identical changes in household income. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities graphic: Results from American Community Survey)
Another problem is sample size, Bui writes. CPS used a sample of 100,000 addresses, while ACS uses 3.5 million. "So on balance, the American Community Survey estimates will generally be better for smaller geographic areas than the Current Population Survey. The trade-off is that the CPS asks more in-depth questions regarding income and poverty."

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