Humphrey School News—September 25, 2015

Roy Wilkins Center Research Brief Disputes Reports on Income Disparity in Minnesota

Recent news reports cite preliminary findings from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) purporting to show that blacks are worse off in Minnesota than in Mississippi.

The Star Tribune reported:

"From 2013 to 2014, the median income for black households in the state fell 14 percent. In constant dollars, that was a decline from about $31,500 to $27,000—or $4,500 in a single year…. The median black household in Minnesota is now worse off than its counterpart in Mississippi. Among the 50 states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., Minnesota ranked 45th in median black household income. Mississippi ranked 44th."

The problem with these claims and conclusions drawn from them is that the preliminary statistics reference a data set that has yet to be released publically and that uses an extremely small sample size representing only one percent of the population. Most analysts of the ACS data use the five-percent sample that combines five years of data to smooth out random year-to-year fluctuations and/or check the robustness of the results against comparable samples, such as the Current Population Survey (CPS).

This research brief addresses the following questions:

  • Is the finding of a dramatic decline in black income in Minnesota from 2013 to 2014 robust with respect to alternative data sets and alternative measures of income?
  • How reliable are year-to-year results on black income using the ACS?
  • What does the evidence show about the relative economic well-being of blacks in Minnesota as compared with blacks in Mississippi? 

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