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1) News release: Today the U.S. Census Bureau released the first set of estimates from the National Experimental Wellbeing Statistics (NEWS) project, an experimental data product that uses a new methodology to calculate income and poverty estimates.

The NEWS project is a research-driven trial with the aim of looking at different ways to enhance how we currently produce income and poverty statistics. Among the innovations — using a broader set of data sources as well as conducting additional statistical analysis to produce the new income, poverty and resource estimates for the year 2018. The year 2018 was chosen as a proof of concept and first step in the work for version 1.0 of the NEWS project.

This release looks at the economic “wellbeing” indicators reported annually by the Census Bureau, including median household income, poverty and inequality.

A new web page will serve as a resource for those interested in this project. This resource includes:

Data tables of new income and poverty estimates for 2018 (national level only).
A working paper with:
-- A detailed description of methodology.
-- Data sources used (types of administrative records, etc.).
-- The statistical analysis conducted.
-- Future goals of the NEWS project.

Among the goals of the NEWS project is getting valuable stakeholder feedback. We are being as transparent as possible with the methodology, data and code in order to elicit the best possible input from data users. Census Bureau statisticians will use that feedback to further refine the methodology and improve the product. To provide comment or feedback, email Census.NEWSProject@census.gov.

After continued study, testing and rigorous analysis, this research may help inform how we produce some of the statistics included in future official reports on income and poverty in the United States.

There is no set time period yet for version 2.0 of the NEWS project, but we will release updates as progress is made. Census Bureau statisticians anticipate future versions will include expanded income and resource statistics, as well as additional vintage years and smaller geographies such as state and county level.

2) NEWS website:
The National Experimental Wellbeing Statistics (NEWS) project is a new experimental project to develop improved estimates of income, poverty, and other measures of economic wellbeing.  Using all available survey, administrative, and commercial data, we strive to provide the best possible estimates of our nation and economy.

In this first release, we estimate improved income and poverty statistics for 2018 by addressing several possible sources of bias documented in prior research.  We address biases from (1) unit nonresponse through improved weights, (2) missing income information in both survey and administrative data through improved imputation, and (3) misreporting by combining or replacing survey responses with administrative information.  Reducing survey error using these techniques substantially affects key measures of well-being.  With this initial set of experimental estimates, we estimate median household income is 6.3 percent higher than in survey estimates, and poverty is 1.1 percentage points lower. These changes are driven by subpopulations for which survey error is particularly relevant. For householders aged 65 and over, median household income is 27.3 percent higher, and poverty is 3.3 percentage points lower than in survey estimates. We do not find a significant impact on median household income for householders under 65 or on child poverty.

We will continue research (1) to estimate income at smaller geographies, through increased use of American Community Survey data, (2) addressing other potential sources of bias, (3) releasing additional years of statistics, particularly more timely estimates, and (4) extending the income concepts measured.  As we advance the methods in future releases, we expect to revise these estimates.

Please provide your feedback:  census.newsproject@census.gov

3) Working paper: National Experimental Wellbeing Statistics

Accurately measuring household income and poverty is essential to understanding the nation’s overall economic wellbeing. Many studies show that measurement error stemming from unit nonresponse, item nonresponse and misreporting biases key official statistics such as mean or median income and the official poverty rate. The direction of bias differs between these sources of measurement error. Unit and item nonresponse have been found to bias income up and poverty down (Rothbaum et al., 2021; Rothbaum and Bee, 2022; Bollinger et al., 2018; Hokayem, Raghunathan and Rothbaum, 2022), while misreporting can bias income down and poverty up (Bee and Mitchell, 2017; Meyer et al., 2021b; Larrimore, Mortenson and Splinter, 2020). Since these error components are typically studied in isolation, their overall impact on the accuracy of survey estimates remains unclear.

This paper summarizes the National Experimental Wellbeing Statistics (NEWS) Project, which integrates this research and address each of these sources of bias simultaneously in order to produce more accurate estimates of household income and poverty. The NEWS project makes three unique contributions. First, we address as many sources of measurement error as we can simultaneously – including unit and item nonresponse and underreporting in surveys as well as the various challenges in administrative data such as measurement error, conceptual misalignment, and incomplete coverage. Second, we bring together all of the available survey and administrative data, which allows to address many of the shortcomings of individual data sources. Third, we propose a model to combine survey and administrative earnings data given measurement error in both sources, replacing ad hoc assumptions that have been used in prior work.


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