American Community Survey highlights city's changing economic climate

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 | 6:15 p.m. CST; updated 8:25 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 15, 2010
According to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey, the median family income in the U.S. and Columbia has decreased and the percentage of people with incomes below the poverty level has increased since 2000. The poverty threshold for 2000 was $8,794 for one person. The average poverty threshold for 2005-2009 was $10,560.

COLUMBIA — More poverty, less affordable housing and a persistent wage gap for women are among the economic factors that emerge in new data about Columbia.

The U.S. Census Bureau released data Tuesday from its first five-year American Community Survey, a collection of information about households from Jan. 1, 2005 to Dec. 31, 2009. The estimates are not derived from 2010 census population data but are a separate slice of life for every state, county and city in America. Results from the surveys represent average characteristics gathered in an ongoing analysis between the 10-year population counts.

Several estimates point to a burgeoning level of prosperity in the city, despite the nationwide economic downturn:

• Families with income of $100,000 to $149,000 rose from 11 percent in the 2000 census data to 18.5 percent in the ACS data.

• Median family income increased 24 percent, to $65,100.

• Per capita income increased 25 percent, to $24,300.

• Median value of owner-occupied housing units increased 36 percent, to $161,300.

• Owner-occupied units valued between $200,000 to $499,999 more than doubled, from 13.7 percent in 2000 to 30.7 percent in the latest survey.

Despite the apparent gains, women in the workforce still face a wage gap:

• Median earnings for year-round, full-time working women increased 30 percent compared with 17 percent for men...

... but women still earn less. Median earnings for women are estimated at $34,900 while men bring in $40,700.

And poverty in the city is on the rise, even in the face of increasing wages and incomes:

• Families living below the poverty level increased from 9.4 percent in 2000 to 10.7 percent.

• Income levels that are below the poverty line included 23 percent of individuals 18 years and older, compared with just over 20 percent in 2000, while poverty-level income for families with children under 18 rose two percentage points, to 15.4 percent.

Meanwhile, housing costs are eating more of people's budgets:

• Greater numbers of both owners and renters pay more than 30 percent of their total income for housing — 55 percent of renters, up from 44 percent in 2000, and 18 percent of owners, compared to 15 percent a decade ago.

• Renters are in a counterintuitive zone. Rent is rising, even as 3,000 more units are available. The percentage of tenants paying gross rent of $750 to $999 has nearly tripled, up from 11.5 to 28.4 percent.

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John Blodgett December 16, 2010 | 12:32 p.m.

1. You have used ACS data based on 2005-2009 combined. When looking at economic trends you might be better off using the latest data, based only on 2009 surveys. Economic conditions were different that year than they were in the 4 earlier years of the period. Columbia and Boone are both large enough to have 1-year data. Go to the Missouri Census Data Center's ACS Profile Menu web app at and follow the link to "Sample Report". That sample shows a 2009 profile for city, the county, the state and the country. Click on the link at the top of the Columbia column to see a 4-year trend report for the city.
2. Saying that a certain dollar amount such as Per Capita Income or Median HH Income went up by x% does not tell us much unless it is adjusted for inflation. You are not consistent in this.
3. Likewise saying that the percentage of families with incomes between $100,000 and $149,999 had a large increase is misleading because $149,000 in 2000 is not the same as $149,000 in 2009.
4. Using poverty rates for Columbia is unfortunately misleading because the numbers are distorted because of the "poor" students. It is a glitch in how poverty is measured (by ignoring the fact that these students are still part of a family economically, even if they no longer share a household with that family). You can get around this by looking at things like the poverty rate for persons living in families. As it is, an increase in the poverty rate for the city could just be the result of a larger proportion of the population being students.
5. The Census Bureau provides very useful online guides for comparing ACS data with other sources, including the 2000 census. (See ). It indicates comparing income data "with caution". In the detailed explanation it notes, among other things, that "In a comparison study between Census 2000 income data and the 2000 ACS, income collected in Census 2000 was found to be about 4 percent higher than that in the 2000 ACS". That is not an overwhelming difference, but it should noted. What might be better, though, would be to compare ACS data to ACS data for trends. You could compare 2005 or 2006 to 2009 to see what the trends are over that period. Then you are comparing "ACS income" to "ACS income", although you do introduce some uncertainty due to sampling.

(Report Comment)
Dave Overfelt December 16, 2010 | 3:18 p.m.

John, these are all good points. It is also important to note that these statistics gloss over the gross inequalities in Columbia.

(Report Comment)
Dustin Renwick December 16, 2010 | 4:32 p.m.

John —

Yes, the ACS data is from a five-year survey, and I agree that the last year has been much different than in the four previous years. However, the five-year results present an interesting picture for the longer time frame.

I read the explanation notes, and I actually did not use some of the data I had planned to because of the variability.

I appreciate your interest in the article/data.


(Report Comment)

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