Income Data for Policy Analysis: A Comparative Assessment of Eight Surveys. DETAILED DESCRIPTIVE ANALYSIS

12/23/2008

This chapter presents detailed descriptions of the eight surveys in the study, including overall survey design and methodology, universe, timing, data collection, key definitions, questionnaire content related to income and other policy-relevant topics, processing, and public availability of income and other data. To facilitate comparisons and minimize length while presenting precise information, the substantive content has been arranged in side-by-side descriptions of the eight surveys across 14 domains.

The specific descriptions apply to the files used in the study—the 2001 SIPP panel, 2002 files for ACS and MEPS, 2003 files for CPS, NHIS, MCBS and PSID, and 2004 files for HRS—and are not necessarily applicable in all detail to other years. Surveys are not static, and survey content, procedures, sampling and data may change from year to year. In addition, the specific descriptions apply to data available on public use files unless otherwise noted. Public use files may contain less detail than internal files, and less detail than shown on questionnaires, since data are frequently aggregated, limited or partially suppressed for confidentiality, quality, or other reasons before public release. NHIS tabulations used the internal file since the public use file has no income amounts, $5,000- and $10,000-wide brackets, and both the public use and internal files are described where they differ. MCBS has no public use file and all descriptions apply to the internal files.

The terminology used in these descriptions has been standardized across surveys and often differs from descriptions in survey documentation. The review of survey materials made clear that various surveys apply the same term to somewhat different concepts or measures, and/or use different names for the same concepts or measures. Using the same terminology for all surveys was the only way to present accurate descriptions that enable readers to determine whether surveys are in fact identical or differ across the characteristics and procedures being compared.

The standard terminology in this chapter employs Census Bureau and CPS definitions, e.g., household refers to all persons residing in a housing unit or group quarter, whether or not they are related. The descriptions note when usage of these terms in specific surveys departs significantly from CPS terminology, e.g., when a family may contain persons not related by blood, marriage or adoption, or when the term household refers to families, or when family income may include amounts not part of pre-tax money income for CPS. We have tried to include the CPS definitions of terms either in the descriptions themselves, or in the content summaries below. For any terms not defined in one or the other location, several sets of definitions are available on the Census Bureau web site.3

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