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New Census Project Tracks Geographic and Demographic Aspects of Income Growth Among Working-Age Adults Over Time

Black non-Hispanic men saw their incomes rise at a considerably slower rate between 2005 and 2019 than White non-Hispanic men, even among those who started out earning similar amounts. Meanwhile, Asian and White non-Hispanic men experienced the greatest income increases over the same period.

These and other findings emerge from new data released as part of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Mobility, Opportunity, and Volatility Statistics (MOVS) project. Through an interactive data tool, MOVS offers unprecedented insight into general and group-specific patterns of income and household change over time. This sort of detail is rare in existing data, which often relies on survey snapshots in time rather than on data collected by tracking the same people over long periods of time.

Income mobility refers to changes in the income of people or generations over time. It is an important measure of the economic welI-being of various groups and individuals relative to each other. For example, are children faring better than their parents? Is income growth among some racial and ethnic groups lagging others? Do men’s incomes rise faster than women’s?

In addition to measuring how income mobility varied widely across demographic groups, such as race and gender, MOVS captures changes in family structure and geographic location within these same groups.

How MOVS Measures Income -- MOVS defines individual income as a person’s share of the total income in their household. This share is calculated using a common strategy called an equivalence scale.

Specifically, MOVS adjusts total household income by the square root of family size. Since the income shared in a household changes depending on the number of individuals, MOVS includes information on how family structure changes over time and by demographic group and geography, including rates of divorce and marriage and the average number of adults and children per household.  

How MOVS Tracks Income -- MOVS measures income and tracks income mobility through a rich combination of demographic and tax data linked at the individual level. This unique data mix produced statistics that address income mobility questions like:

-- How income growth differed for people who initially had low or high income.
-- How common was it for people to move up or down the income distribution, and which groups were most likely to make such moves.
-- How mobility patterns and income volatility varied by race/ethnicity, gender or a combination of the two?
-- How mobility patterns varied by geography, such as state or region.
-- How differences in the ways families grew or shrank over time interacted with income dynamics.

MOVS data users can explore the mobility measures that interest them through an interactive data tool. They can also download the underlying aggregate data to develop more complex analyses of their own.

To make these data as broadly accessible as possible, MOVS provides scripts to help users read the data in multiple common statistical packages, along with data dictionaries and use cases, so they may perform more complex analyses.

Income Mobility Measures -- In addition to providing intuitive visuals of income mobility patterns, MOVS incorporates the more technical statistics researchers use to develop aggregate mobility measures, which form the foundation of assessments of well-being and help inform policy. For example, MOVS provides transition probabilities from the base-year distribution to income quintiles in future years. Data users can use these transition probabilities to calculate common overall mobility measures . . . .

This initial release is just the beginning. The MOVS team plans to continue releasing statistics with new base years, beginning with 2006.

MOVS will be a valuable tool for better understanding how economic well-being shifted during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Census data show that some communities — particularly communities of color and lower-income communities — were especially hard hit economically at the start of the pandemic. However, in recent years the racial income gap has begun to narrow as well as the wealth gap.

MOVS will allow us to explore the details of those emerging changes as we add more data to the tool in the coming years. Several supplementary files will also be released with statistics focusing on the extremes of the income distribution, young adults (those ages 18–25 in 2005), and those whose incomes are persistently low.

Together, these outputs will allow users to understand income mobility in all its richness — from the big picture to the finer details.  

Release: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2024/05/movs.html
MOVS data tool: https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/interactive/movs.html
Mobility, Opportunity, and Volatility Statistics (MOVS): Infrastructure Files and Public Use Data (working paper): https://www.census.gov/library/working-papers/2024/adrm/CES-WP-24-23.html

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