Assessment of Major Federal Data Sets for Analyses of Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander Subgroups and Native Americans: Inventory of Selected Existing Federal Databases. Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)


Sponsoring agency

Bureau of the Census
Department of Commerce


Reference date

Wave 1, 1996 Panel


The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), initiated in late 1983, is a major continuing household survey, providing information on the detailed sources of income, on participation in a wide range of government programs, and on program eligibility. Extensive demographic detail is collected about the persons interviewed, including age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, educational attainment, and marital status. In addition to a core set of questions concerning labor market activity, earnings and income, and program participation and eligibility, from time to time, supplementary questions or topic modules are added to the survey to provide a wide variety of national information on such subjects as assets and liabilities, housing costs and energy usage, child care, welfare history, and disability. The current sample panel consists of some 40,000 households, which are interviewed at 4-month intervals. Longitudinal surveys, such as SIPP, are subject to cumulative nonresponse, which must be taken into account in using data derived over the life of a panel. Prior to 1996, the typical panel length was 32 months; the survey was redesigned in 1996, at which time the panel length was extended to 4 years.

Because of specific congressional mandates on how moneys flow to immigrants, SIPP has included subject modules on Migration History and Immigrant Status, topics which are particularly relevant for analysis of program participation.


The questions shown are the current items for race/ethnicity (1996 Panel). Race is categorized into four major groups -- White; Black; American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut; and Asian and Pacific Islander. The interviewer provides the respondent with a flashcard containing the categories, and asks,

"Which of the categories on this card best describes ....'s race?"

The race as reported by the respondent is entered. If the person reports a race not listed, the response is entered in the "other race" category, and subsequently edited into one of the four groups. If more than one race is reported or the respondent is uncertain, the interviewer next asks,

"Which race does...most closely identify with?"

and records the race reported. If the respondent is unable to provide a single response, the race of the person's mother is reported. If the respondent reports a multiple race for the mother, the first race originally mentioned is recorded.

A separate flashcard is used in connection with the question on ethnicity. This card lists 34 different ethnic categories as options, including nine categories for Spanish origin, one for American Indians, Eskimo or Aleut, and one for African-American. None of the specific subgroups comprising Asians or Pacific Islanders is listed. The flashcard question is,

"Which of the categories on this card best describes ....'s origin or descent?"

The instructions state:

Enter the origin as reported by the respondent. If the person reports more than one origin, ask him/her to select only one choice, and enter that code.

The Hispanic categories listed on the flashcard are:

  • Mexican Mexican-American Chicano
    Puerto Rican Cuban Central American
    South American Dominican Republic Other Hispanic

All of these detailed codes are recorded on the public use file.

Interviewing policy

In areas containing large numbers of non-English speaking respondents, the Census Bureau generally attempts to locate, hire, and train members of the group who are bilingual, and they are assigned as needed. Where a bilingual speaker is not available, the interviewer attempts to locate another member of the household who is bilingual to assist in the interview, or arranges for a callback with a bilingual interviewer (or translator).

The survey is administered through a computer assisted personal interview (CAPI). A computerized Spanish-language version of the questionnaire is available.

Sample size

Since SIPP covers the civilian, noninstitutional population, the sample sizes shown in Appendix Tables A-1 to A-3 are persons' counts for all ages. SIPP identifies the Hispanic subgroups; but tabulates data only for the Hispanic total; it does not collect (nor present) data for the separate API subgroups. SIPP does not oversample any of these race/ethnic groups. However, persons in poverty are oversampled, including some who are in these race/ethnic groups.

Publications of data for Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans

Only very limited data are made available either for Hispanics or APIs; no information is provided for Native Americans. At the moment, SIPP has no plans for extending the detail published, either for Hispanics or for APIs.

SIPP public use micro-data files identify the individual Hispanic subgroups; for the API group, however, only the API total is identified.

Revised race/ethnic definitions

Current thinking calls for introducing the new categories, including allowance for multiracial reporting, in 2003 or 2004, consistent with the revised OMB standards for collecting and presenting race/ethnic data.

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