Frequently Asked Questions

Why don’t issue area grades average to the overall grade?
To get the individual issue area  grades for a particular state, we average the state’s ranks for all the measures in the issue area. We then order those average ranks for all states and assign grades based on a curve. (So, 10 As, 10 Bs, 16 Cs, 10 Ds, & 5 Fs.)

To get to the overall grade for a state, we add the ranks for each issue area, re-rank the states from
1 to 51 and then apply ANOTHER curve to assign a letter grade.

So, for example, Arkansas got 2 Cs, 2 Ds and an F. If we WEREN’T grading on a curve, you might come to the conclusion that Arkansas would get a D. However, since we ARE grading on a curve, we put issue area ranks together and in order with the other states and then apply a second curve. In this case, Arkansas’ rank was in the bottom 5 states, and thus it got an F.

How can my state get a good grade when some of the outcome measures are unavailable for my state? 
It’s true that there are a number of outcome measures for which data is not available for some states.  This is mainly true for states with comparatively small populations where the data source does not have a large enough sample size from that state to produce a reliable statistic.  Methodologically we do not want to penalize states with small populations because data is not available. As such, we only include measures for which the data that is available in calculations for state grades.  If the individual outcomes for which data is available are ranked high vis-a-vis other states, then the overall grade for an index will reflect this.

How did you select the 12 policy priority measures?
We selected 12 policies from the 34 that we include in the Scorecard for several reasons:

How did you decide what constitutes a “strong policy”?
CFED defined criteria for what constitutes a strong policy based on research and advice by the leading experts in their respective fields. Criteria vary by policy and are described in detail in the Policy Briefs for each policy priority.

Why do you use the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) for net worth data in the Scorecard?
The SIPP is considered by most researchers to be one of only three national data sets that contain reputable information about the assets and liabilities of U.S. individuals and households – the other two are the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) and the Panel Survey of Income Dynamics (PSID) conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.  We consider the SIPP data to be the best of these data sources for purposes of the Scorecard for two reasons: 

How is asset poverty calculated?
Asset poverty is defined as having insufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income. To calculate the rate of asset poverty, the first step is to establish an asset poverty line, or the amount of money necessary to make ends meet for three months. In the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, we use three times the monthly federal income poverty level, based on household size as the reference point. For example, in 2009, the monthly federal poverty level for a household of three is $1,526, so that household would be asset poor if it had net worth below $4,577. The next step is to determine the relevant assets to include in the calculation. In the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, we use total household net worth (assets minus liabilities), as measured in the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Assets included in the SIPP net worth calculation include, but are not limited to, home equity and real estate, retirement, business wealth, financial assets and vehicles. Liabilities included in the SIPP net worth calculation include, but are not limited to, secured debt as in mortgages or vehicle loans as well as unsecured debt such as credit cards or student loans. Once the asset poverty line and net worth calculations are established, we calculate the percentage of households that fall below the asset poverty line.

Why doesn’t every state have an outcome for minority asset poverty?
While the SIPP data can be manipulated and analyzed at the state level to develop some core findings about asset ownership and asset poverty, the extent to which one can unpack the wealth characteristics of specific populations at the state level is limited.  In some states such as Arkansas, for example, there are not enough minority households surveyed to provide a sample that can credibly or accurately reflect that population’s economic characteristics.

What is the difference between the asset poverty measures that are included in calculating the official Scorecard state grades and the additional asset poverty data that you provide elsewhere on the state and national profiles?
In order to understand wealth disparities at a more nuanced level in states than can be gleaned from the SIPP data, CFED contracted with Beacon Economics chief economist Jon Haveman to simulate additional estimates of asset poverty using a methodology that involves extrapolating data from the SIPP and cross referencing it with demographic data from the 2007 American Community Survey in order to generate estimated asset poverty rates for states and localities.  The resulting estimates, while less robust and not directly comparable to those generated directly from SIPP data, are nonetheless incredibly useful in helping us identify general patterns of asset ownership and asset poverty among specific populations.  Using the estimation technique for asset poverty, we are able to have a sense of asset poverty by racial and ethnic status, income, education, age, family status and homeownership.

Why does the Scorecard data on asset inequality differ somewhat from other data I’ve seen published on this topic?
One of the core sets of outcome measures reported in the CFED Assets & Opportunity Scorecard tells the story of household net worth and asset inequality by race and gender.  One of our key findings in the Scorecard is that for every $1 of net worth owned by a white-headed household in 2006, a minority-headed household possesses only 16 cents.  While that racial wealth disparity ratio is truly stunning, we are also aware that it differs from some other estimates of racial wealth inequality that are commonly sighted in research and policy circles.  For example, Oliver & Shapiro’s seminal book Black Wealth/White Wealth (2006 12th anniversary edition) cites research by Edward Wolff published in 2004 that puts the black-white median net worth ratio at 10 cents on the dollar in 2001.

There are two primary reasons why the Scorecard’s racial wealth inequality findings differ from other estimates.

For more information on asset inequality and asset ownership among different demographic groups see the Insight Center’s report, Laying the Foundation for National Prosperity: The Imperative for Closing the Racial Wealth Gap, March 2009.

Does the homeownership rate data include mobile or manufactured homes?
Yes, the American Community Survey includes owner-occupied manufactured homes in its homeownership data.

What are the trend indicators?
Trend indicators track the movement of 6 outcome measures between the 2002 edition of the State Asset Development Report Card (the name of the first Scorecard) and the current edition. Measures for which we track trends are:

Can I use the data from the Scorecard  in my publications and presentations? How do I cite the Scorecard?
Most of the information available in the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard is public information and may be reproduced with appropriate citation.  Please cite the data as follows: “2009-2010 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. CFED. Data Source: … Retrieved Monday Day, Year. The data source may be cited using the reference that appears under the data for each measure on this website under "Source."

For example, "2009-2010 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard. CFED. Data Source: Survey of Income and Program Participation. (2004 Panel, Wave 6). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau. Calculations by Beacon Economics. Retrieved September 21, 2009.

Does CFED provide local (sub-state) data as part of the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard?
CFED does not rank, grade or publish local data as part of the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard.  However, CFED has developed - with generous support from Living Cities, and in partnership with the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition - a Local Assets & Opportunity Profile data template and research methodology to assess conditions of financial security and opportunity down to the city or county level.  This product is similar, though not identical, to the type of data available at the state level from the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard.  If you are interested in learning about the Local Assets & Opportunity Profile data template, please contact Ida Rademacher, CFED's Research Director.

If you have questions about data use, please contact us at