Wonky Word Wednesdays: The Census Bureau

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau will release statistics highlighting poverty, income, and health insurance coverage from 2014. But before we dive into the specifics of what this data means for Montana’s economy and working families, let’s take a moment to learn about the U.S. Census Bureau and what it does. So here is today’s wonky word – Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau was created in 1903 and is constitutionally mandated to count the entire U.S population every ten years. This count is used to determine the number of members of each state that are elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Remember in 1993 when Montana went from two house seats to one? Well, you can thank the census for that.

Since its creation, the role of the Census Bureau has extended and now, many different censuses and surveys are conducted to provide economic, education, employment, health, poverty, and family make-up data at the state and national level. (Note: a survey collects data on a sample of the population and a census collects data about every member of the population).

The Census Bureau conducts some of the following censuses:

  1. The Decennial Census of Population and Housing is conducted every ten years and counts every U.S resident in order to determine the House of Representatives.
  1. The Economic Census is conducted every five years and measures outcomes related to business and the economy nationwide.
  1. The Census of Governments is conducted every five years and is a comprehensive measure of state and local government operations and activities.

Two key surveys from the Census Bureau tell us about income and poverty in our state.

  1. The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey that samples a small population of the U.S and releases information about ancestry, educational attainment, income, employment, housing etc. The survey provides detailed characteristics at state and local levels and allows you to compare data between states.
  • The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) measures the population of individuals living in poverty by age and income at state and local levels. These estimates are built from ACS data.
  1. The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a joint effort between the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Like the ACS, this is also an ongoing survey that collects information about income, family relationships, and labor force estimates. The BLS uses these estimates to release monthly reports on the employment situation across the U.S. The CPS also provides long-term trends in state poverty.
  • The Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC or March CPS) is based off of the CPS. In March, the CPS includes supplemental questions on income, work experience, poverty, and health insurance coverage. This data is used to create the official source of poverty nationwide, the Official Poverty Measure.

Stay tuned Thursday as the Montana Budget and Policy Center digs into the newly released data and highlights what ACS, CPS, and ASEC figures mean for the economy, those living in poverty, and health coverage in Montana.

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