Census Bureau: Poverty rates drop when college students aren’t counted

rstradling@newsobserver.comAugust 1, 2013 

  • Counties

    •  Watauga (Home to Appalachian State University): -12.7 percent (margin of error: 4.5 percentage points)

    •  Pitt (Home to East Carolina University): -5.5 percent (2.3)

    •  Orange: -4.8 percent (2.3)

    •  New Hanover (Home to UNC Wilmington): -2.8 percent (2)

    •  Guilford (Home to colleges including N.C. A&T State University, UNC Greensboro and High Point University): -1.3 percent (1.3)

    •  Wake: -1.3 percent (0.8)


    •  Chapel Hill: -11.5 percent (3.2)

    •  Greenville : -10.3 percent (3.5)

    •  Wilmington: -3.6 percent (3.4)

    •  Raleigh: -2.4 percent (1.8)

    •  Greensboro: -2.3 percent (2.1)

Poverty rates drop in college towns like Chapel Hill, Greenville and Raleigh when you don’t count students living off campus, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The government already doesn’t count college students living in dorms when it figures poverty rates. But students who rent houses or apartments off campus are traditionally counted in poverty statistics, even if their only income comes from weekend fast-food jobs and their parents are paying most of their bills.

So the Census Bureau decided to see what would happen if those students were excluded, too, using American Community Survey data from 2009 through 2011. It found that about 25 percent of the nation’s 23.2 million college students live off campus in nonfamily households – with friends or housemates.

Excluding those students from poverty calculations resulted in a modest drop in the nation’s poverty rate, from 15.2 percent to 14.5 percent.

But in towns, cities and counties where those students are concentrated, the effect was more striking. In Chapel Hill, for example, the Census Bureau found that excluding off-campus college students would drop the poverty rate from 23.7 percent to 12.2 percent.

The American Community Survey comes with a margin of error, like a political poll, meaning the actual drop in poverty rates could be higher or lower than the Census Bureau’s estimate. For Chapel Hill, the margin of error is 3.2 percentage points.

For most cities and counties, including Durham, the margin of error was larger than the estimated change in poverty. But for 11 places in North Carolina, the changes in poverty were statistically significant. All figures show decline from the current poverty rate.

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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