2011 American Community Survey shows continuing hardship throughout the U.S.

The results of the 2011 American Community Survey (ACS), released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, show that households across the United States are still coping with the damage wrought by the Great Recession.

Between 2010 and 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income either fell or stayed the same in every state except Vermont. Median household income significantly declined in 18 states, ranging from a 1.1 percent decline in Ohio to a 6 percent drop in Nevada. California (-3.8 percent), Georgia (-3.5 percent), Hawaii (-5.2 percent), Louisiana (-4.7 percent), New Jersey (-3.4 percent), and New Mexico (-3.1 percent) all experienced income declines of more than 3 percent. Thirty-one states showed no significant change in median household income. For the nation as a whole, median household income decreased by 1.3 percent.1

While overall household incomes declined, the distribution of income still became more inequitable. Twenty states saw a significant increase in income inequality as measured by the Gini index2: Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Income inequality did not decrease in any states nationwide.

The survey’s poverty results show similar cause for alarm. At the state level, both the number and percentage of people in poverty rose significantly in 17 states, with the largest increases occurring in Louisiana (+1.7 percent), Oregon (+1.6 percent), and Arizona (+1.5 percent). Vermont (-1.2 percent) was the only state where the poverty rate declined. All other states saw no significant change from their 2010 poverty rates. The chart below shows 2011 poverty rates by state. According to the ACS, the poverty rate for the United States as a whole rose from 15.3 percent to 15.9 percent.3

The lone bright spot of the survey’s results is in the proportion of young Americans who now have health insurance. The percentage of Americans nationwide ages 19 to 25 covered by health insurance rose from 68.3 percent in 2009 to 71.8 percent in 2011. This increase is almost certainly the result of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), which allowed children under the age of 26 to remain insured under their parents’ health care plans. At the state level, health insurance coverage rates increased significantly from 2009 to 2011 in 37 states plus the District of Columbia, with Vermont (+13.9 percent) and Maine (+7.3 percent) having the largest increases.

The full ACS results can be found here.


1. National-level income and poverty statistics are officially derived from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (formerly known as the March supplement) of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The ACS and the CPS have significantly different sample sizes and methodologies. The CPS is designed primarily for national-level estimates, whereas the ACS is more appropriate for state-level and sub-state-level analyses. According to the CPS, national median household income decreased by 1.5 percent.

2. The Gini index, or Gini coefficient, is a numerical measure of the level of income inequality within a given population. The index ranges between zero and one, where a score of zero indicates a perfectly equitable distribution of income, i.e., all households have an equal share, and one indicates all income is held by one household.

3. Once again, national-level poverty statistics are officially derived from the CPS. The CPS official U.S. poverty rate stood statistically unchanged at 15.0 percent.