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for State economic areas continued

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Metropolitan

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B
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115
48
70

145
72
89

156
88
98

for State economic areas ... continued

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Wyoming narea

1 29 2b

138
123
113

148
135
138

166 156 155

of living for farming income areas, 1950 and 1954;

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Areas delineated in "Development of Agriculture's Human Resources A Report on Problems of Low-Income Farmers". Low-income farms were classified on the basis of three criteria for State Economic Areas: (1) Farms in State Economic Areas average less than $1,000 residual farm income to operator and had farm-operator family level-of-living index below the regional average and 25 percent or more of commercial farms classified as "low production". (2) Average farm-operator levelof-living index for the State Economic Areas was in the lowest fifth for the nation. (3) Fifty percent or more of commercial farms in State Economic Areas were classified as "low production". Areas denoted as Serious in this table met all three criteria; areas denoted as Substantial met any 2 of the criteria; areas denoted as Moderate met any one of the criteria,

2/ Does not include the low-income areas of Northwestern New Mexico,

The generalized areas represent geographic groupings of the low-income farming areas,

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Indexes not computed for this area because of problems related to Indians on reservations,

BRIEF HISTORY OF COUNTY INDEXES OF RURAL LEVEL OF LIVING

The Bureau of Agricultural Economics first published county indexes of rural level of living in October 1943. The county indexes were based on data from the 1940 Censuses of Population, Housing, and Agriculture, Separate indexes were developed and published for rural-farm and rural-nonfarm families of each county. Also, a composite rural index was published that was a weighted average of the rural-farm index and rural-nonfarm index for each county. Several articles were published on the technical aspects of the 1940 indexes (see Related Reports).

After data were available from the 1945 Census of Agriculture, new county indexes were constructed. These related to the level of living of farm-operator families only, whereas the rural-farm indexes previously issued for 1940 had related to all families living on farms, including farm-laborer and other families, as well as farm-operator families. In order to have similar indexes for comparing 1940 and 1945 level of living of farm-operator families, new indexes were constructed at this time for 1940 based on data from the Census of Agriculture alone. The farm-operator family level-of-living indexes for counties of the United States 1940-1945 were issued in May 1947.

After the 1940 and 1945 farm-operator indexes were issued, similar indexes were computed for counties from data of the 1930 Census of Agriculture.

As the county data on items related to farm-operator levels of living from the 1950 Census of Agriculture were released by the Bureau of the Census, farm-operator indexes comparable with those for the earlier years were computed. The 1950 indexes, previously unpublished 1930 indexes, and the previously-published 1940 and 1945 indexes were presented in a report published in 1952. Indexes for 1954, along with comparable previously-published indexes for 1945 and 1950 are presented in this bulletin.

This brief history relates only to the construction of the indexes of farm-operator family level of living. It does not attempt to cover the analytical work done by the United States Department of Agriculture or other agencies in which the county indexes have been utilized; nor does it attempt to cover other types of studies and surveys in the general field of rural standards and levels of living. In the latter field this Department has had work going on since the 1920's.

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The concept of level of living which the indexes are intended to reflect is the average level of current consumption or utilization of goods and services. "Services" is broadly interpreted to include those both publicly and privately secured which contribute to wellbeing and provide satisfaction.

Level of consumption and utilization of goods and services during a specified period of time is not identical with an income or expenditure level. Consumption expenditures may exceed or fall short of the income in the specified period, and the utility obtained from goods and services currently used is by no means strictly identifiable with current consumption expenditures. Furthermore, a given level of expenditure may represent for different families or individuals widely varying quantities of goods and services owing to differences in costs of living, in quantities of goods and services consumed that are not purchased, and in budget management. Hence, a measure of level of living is not merely

1

The material in this section is an adaptation from a similar section in the report presenting the 1950 indexes (see Related Reports).

2 This section is adapted from an article of the same name which appeared in the February 1944 issue of the American Sociological Review (see Related Reports).

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a substitute for a measure of income or family-living expenditures, as the concept, although closely related, is clearly differentiated. The great variation present among families and individuals in the goods and services entering into their level of living is averaged out to some extent when we deal with groups of families, to which "indexes" of level of living generally relate.

In attempting to indicate what level-of-living indexes measure, we first wish to underscore three points: (1) That an index is not a direct measure of the actual level of living, but only an indicant of it; (2) that such an indicant for a county is not of the absolute degree of attainment of some external standard, but is expressed in relation to the corresponding degree of attainment for a defined group (for example, the average of all counties); and (3) that the description of level of living here discussed relates only to the average level attained by all farm operators of the county, and not to variations in the level of living present among individual families or persons.

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Difficult as is the problem of choosing items for an index of level of living when the unit is a county, it is considerably simpler than when the unit is an individual or a family. Unique deviations from common consumption patterns are not likely to affect a county average, whereas they might cause individuals or families to be incorrectly rated on a scale if it were not fairly comprehensive as to coverage. Nevertheless, the problem of choice of items for county level-of-living indexes is difficult, not so much because of uncertainty as to which items should be included, but rather because of the limitations of available data.

Within the limits prescribed by availability of data, the selection of items other than income or expenditures should be governed by the following criteria:

(1) The item should itself indicate possession or consumption of goods or services, particularly those which, in addition to their use value per se, yield to the possessor a commonly associated status value.

(2) The item should represent a larger class of associated items indicating consumption of goods and services, some of which may complement or enhance the utility of the chosen item while others may have quite different types of utility.

(3) The item should indicate possession or consumption of goods or services that are generally sought by all groups and classes of people.

Insofar as the items selected meet these criteria, they provide a measure of relative levels of living along a national scale which parallels as closely as possible the dominant configuration of our varied patterns of consumption, that is, that configuration which through its universality comes closest to typifying attained and attainable patterns. In an important dynamic sense, the dominant consumption pattern is one which tends to modify and displace coexistent divergent patterns. Obviously, the pattern described will fit with varying degrees of adequacy regional and social groups that depart in their present economic and social well-being and value systems from the dominant national pattern. Such departures, however, affect the adequacy of the level-of-living measure only to the extent that the regional socio-economy possesses consumption and living standards basically divergent from the dominant pattern, the divergences being of a relatively permanent nature. If the divergences represent merely a state of partial attainment of uni versally accepted but gradually evolving standards, the level-of-living measures appropriate to the nationally dominant pattern still have validity, as the value objectives of the social or regional groups concerned are geared to the dominant pattern. No measure of level of living can be constructed that can simultaneously provide a measure of the nationally prevalent elements of level of living and also measure the unique elements characteristic of special groups or special areas. As a consequence, an index of level of living that is to be applied nationally must, in order to attain validity, be restricted to elements in the national standard of living which have attained general acceptance. For any specific county, it will reflect a reduced, even though central, core of the larger complex of components comprising its actual, and, to some extent unique, level of living.

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