Income Data for Policy Analysis: A Comparative Assessment of Eight Surveys. Rolling Reference Period

12/23/2008

If respondents to the ACS are reporting their incomes for the past 12 months, as requested, then we ought to see evidence of growth in reported incomes as the interview month moves from January through December. After all, compensating for such growth is one of the objectives of the inflation adjustment that is applied to the ACS income data. On the other hand, if income grew very little over the calendar year or even declined, then even highly accurate responses may not show the expected pattern.

Table V.11 shows the aggregate income reported by respondents to the 2003 ACS, by calendar month and family income quintile.53 We see no indication, either within any quintile or across all quintiles, that respondents interviewed later in the year reported more income than respondents interviewed earlier in the year. Does this suggest, then, that respondents are reporting their incomes for the prior calendar year? Certainly, the case that respondents were in fact giving their income for the past 12 months would be stronger if the reported incomes did grow by interview month. Later in this chapter, however, we look at other evidence of change in reported income over time that suggests that the amount of real change in incomes over this period may have been too small to show up in respondents’ survey reports.

TABLE V.11: AGGREGATE INCOME IN PREVIOUS 12 MONTHS BY FAMILY INCOME QUINTILE WITH NO ADJUSTMENT FOR INFLATION:  2003 ACS
Month Lowest Quintile of Family Income Second Quintile of Family Income Third Quintile of Family Income Fourth Quintile of Family Income Highest Quintile of Family Income Total
Jan 30.04 63.88 91.38 119.24 229.87 534.41
Feb 29.09 65.03 91.16 115.82 222.85 523.96
Mar 30.10 63.14 89.54 112.73 217.96 513.47
Apr 29.62 63.74 88.64 111.89 220.92 514.81
May 29.44 63.45 88.55 119.30 229.98 530.72
Jun 29.63 65.55 90.26 121.62 220.80 527.85
Jul 29.65 64.50 90.11 118.57 235.30 538.14
Aug 29.37 63.44 88.63 118.43 232.17 532.04
Sep 29.36 65.43 89.39 113.17 237.12 534.46
Oct 30.42 64.88 89.18 115.13 232.33 531.95
Nov 30.02 64.84 90.61 113.57 234.72 533.76
Dec 29.38 64.62 90.53 115.96 230.58 531.08

Source:  U.S. Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, special tabulations. Note: The estimates for each month are based on households interviewed in that month.  Aggregate amounts are 1/12 what they would be if all sample households were interviewed in each month.

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