About the poverty & income data

Information on this page:

What do these data tell us?

  • The percentage of people living in poverty in Minnesota by year, age group, race and ethnicity.
  • If a segment of a population is at higher risk for poverty.
  • The median household income in Minnesota by year.
  • The geographic distribution of people living in poverty and median household income.
  • If a measure is increasing, decreasing, or not changing.

How can we use these data?

  • To inform the public about the number and percent of people living poverty and the median household income.
  • To study trends in the percentage of people living in poverty or the median household income.
  • For program planning and evaluation by state and local partners.

What can these data not tell us?

  • What causes poverty.
  • The mean (average) household income, which is different than the median.

What is the source of the data?

Poverty and income data are extracted from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

How is poverty identified in a population?

  • The U.S. Census Bureau defines "poverty" by comparing a family's annual household income to a set of federal poverty thresholds. The federal poverty thresholds are calculated using a family's household size and composition. If a household income is less than their poverty threshold, then every person living in that household is considered to be in poverty. To learn more, go to the U.S. Census Bureau's poverty webpage.
  • The official poverty threshold for a two adult, two child family was $24,036 in 2015 for the U.S. For other years, view all the poverty thresholds. The Census Bureau adjusts the poverty thresholds each year according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U), which estimates prices paid for goods and services and is produced by the U.S. Department of Labor. This requires the calendar year to be complete before establishing the final poverty threshold.
  • Another way to identify poverty not used on these pages (but used elsewhere on the portal) is to use the poverty guidelines issued annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is often used by federal programs to determine financial eligibility. The guidelines are intended for administrative purposes as opposed to statistical purposes and are a simplification of the official poverty thresholds. To learn more, go to: 2012 HHS Poverty Guidelines

How can I tell if one percent differs compared to another percent?

  • Assessing the confidence interval for the percent or rate is one approach to determine whether there are differences over time. If they do not 'overlap' then they 'differ.' Although it is not a 'true' statistical test, it is a commonly accepted way to compare percentages or rates and tends to be more conservative than statistical testing.
  • A confidence interval for a rate is a measure of reliability. In this analysis, 90% confidence intervals were calculated. A 90% confidence interval is the interval within which the true value of the rate would be expected to fall 90 times out of 100.
  • Unless otherwise noted, differences between groups described on these poverty & income pages are statistically significant. A difference, increase, or decrease is indicated as "statistically significant" when the 90% confidence intervals for percentages do not overlap. There are no confidence intervals available for the measure of median household income.

What are the limitations of the data?

  • American Community Survey estimates are based on a sample of the population and not a full count of every person like the census. However, American Community Survey estimates are typically more current than the most recent decennial census (e.g., 2010 U.S. Census).
  • Sometimes, American Community Survey estimates need to be aggregated across 5 years, in order to have a large enough sample size (number of people) to examine differences by variables like county or race and ethnicity.
  • There are some disadvantages to the official poverty measure (the Census Bureau's poverty threshold) used to identify people living in poverty:
    • It does not reflect non-cash governmental benefit (such as housing subsidies, home energy assistance, or the "SNAP" food stamp program).
    • It does not include some expenses such as child support payments, transportation, or other work-related expenses necessary to hold a job.
    • It does not adjust for geographic differences in prices across the nation or variation in medical costs depending on insurance coverage.

Where can I find more technical information about the data?