New Poverty Data does not Give the Complete Picture of Poverty in DC during the Recession

September 17th, 2010 | by Jenny Reed

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released data showing a sharp rise in poverty in the US in 2009.  That same data showed that poverty decreased modestly in DC.  Yet for several reasons, the new data do not tell the complete story of what has happened to poverty in DC during the recession.

  • The findings yesterday were released from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS).  The CPS is the most authoritative data source on poverty and income trends at the national level, but not at the state level.  More authoritative data on state level poverty will be released from the Census later this month.
  • The data are presented for both 2008 and 2009 because the Census Bureau recommends that state-level CPS data be averaged across two years to compensate for the small sample sizes.
  • For DC, combining data from 2008 and 2009 is misleading when trying to look at the effects of the recession.  Unlike the nation as a whole, DC didn’t start to feel the brunt of the recession until late 2008.  For example, both DC’s unemployment and food stamp enrollment — two measures closely tied to poverty — had much larger increases in 2009 than in 2008.

Therefore, averaging poverty data from 2008 and 2009 could mask any increase in poverty in DC in 2009.  It would be better to examine the changes in poverty in DC from year to year.

Fortunately, the Census Bureau will release data on September 28th from the American Community Survey that will allow us to do just that.  It will also allow researchers to examine poverty and income trends by race and ethnicity, geographic area, age, and education attainment, to name a few — something that can’t really be done with the CPS data.

Stay tuned later this month for DCFPI’s analysis of the American Community Survey’s poverty and income data for DC and more detailed look at what has happened to poverty and income in DC during the recession.

2 Responses to “New Poverty Data does not Give the Complete Picture of Poverty in DC during the Recession”

  1. [...] Reed at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute cautioned us that the new figure was actually a two-year average that might mask the impacts of the [...]

  2. [...] Institute, poverty in DC dipped from 17.1% to 16.9% between 2007 and 2008, but has been rising since [...]