Income Data for Policy Analysis: A Comparative Assessment of Eight Surveys. Differences Across the Income Distribution

12/23/2008

Allocation rates by quintile of family income reveal curiously different patterns across the surveys. In the CPS, SIPP and MEPS the percentage of persons with any of their income allocated rises with the level of income (that is, from the lowest to the highest quintile), but it declines slightly in the ACS and shows no clear trend in the NHIS (Table VI.2).

Turning from people to dollars, however, we find that the percentage of dollars allocated shows no trend by quintile in the CPS, SIPP, and NHIS whereas the trend is distinctly downward in the ACS but clearly upward in MEPS (Table VI.3). The nearly identical results in the SIPP and NHIS are especially noteworthy because these two surveys have the most income questions (SIPP) and the fewest income questions (NHIS) by far. Clearly, the level of income detail requested of respondents is unrelated to whether allocation rates rise, decline or remain invariant across the income distribution.

TABLE VI.1

ALLOCATION FREQUENCY FOR TOTAL INCOME: FIVE SURVEYS
Estimate CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Persons with Income (millions) 200.61 195.21 206.21 202.22 117.4*
Percent with Any Allocated Income 52.2 21.2 80.5 54.3 33.3
Amount of Total Income ($billions) 6,468.4 6,346.3 5,766.2 6,257.7 6,115.2
Percent Allocated 34.2 17.6 32.4 42.7 32.4

Source:   Mathematica Policy Research, from tabulations of calendar year 2002 income from the 2003 CPS ASEC supplement, the 2001 SIPP panel, the 2002 Full-year Consolidated MEPS-HC, and the 2003 NHIS, and prior 12 months income, inflation-adjusted to calendar year 2002, from the 2002 ACS.

TABLE VI.2

PERCENT OF PERSONS WITH ANY ALLOCATED INCOME BY QUINTILE: FIVE SURVEYS
Family Income Quintile CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Millions of Persons with Income1 (Quintile)Lowest 37.92 37.74 39.21 38.54 32.26
(Quintile)Second 39.71 38.93 40.93 40.94 24.54
(Quintile)Third 40.55 39.36 41.38 40.55 22.29
(Quintile)Fourth 40.72 39.44 41.58 40.13 20.53
(Quintile)Highest 41.71 39.73 43.12 42.06 17.80
Percent with Any Allocated Income
(Quintile)Lowest 46.3 24.1 71.8 44.4 35.0
(Quintile)Second 48.7 22.0 78.7 49.4 35.6
(Quintile)Third 50.3 20.6 81.2 53.9 29.6
(Quintile)Fourth 54.5 19.4 83.3 58.1 28.9
(Quintile)Highest 60.6 19.9 86.9 64.9 36.5

Source:   Mathematica Policy Research, from tabulations of calendar year 2002 income from the 2003 CPS ASEC supplement, the 2001 SIPP panel, the 2002 Full-year Consolidated MEPS-HC, and the 2003 NHIS, and prior 12 months income, inflation-adjusted to calendar year 2002,
from the 2002 ACS.

1. NHIS estimates are millions of families and unrelated individuals.

TABLE VI.3

PERCENT OF TOTAL INCOME ALLOCATED BY QUINTILE: FIVE SURVEYS
Family Income Quintile CPS ACS SIPP MEPS NHIS
Total Income in Billions of Dollars
(Quintile)Lowest 370.5 368.7 391.4 360.0 356.0
(Quintile)Second 774.1 778.4 750.8 808.4 687.1
(Quintile)Third 1,090.2 1,087.4 1,008.8 1,144.7 1,020.3
(Quintile)Fourth 1,446.8 1,415.8 1,307.2 1,461.8 1,479.1
(Quintile)Highest 2,786.7 2,696.0 2,308.0 2,483.0 2,572.7
Percent of Dollars Allocated
(Quintile)Lowest 35.1 21.8 33.3 36.1 34.0
(Quintile)Second 33.6 20.1 33.1 38.8 34.6
(Quintile)Third 32.9 18.7 32.3 41.1 29.4
(Quintile)Fourth 32.5 17.2 31.9 43.4 28.9
(Quintile)Highest 35.6 16.1 32.3 45.2 34.9

Source: Mathematica Policy Research, from tabulations of calendar year 2002 income from the 2003 CPS ASEC supplement, the 2001 SIPP panel, the 2002 Full-year Consolidated MEPS-HC, and the 2003 NHIS, and prior 12 months income, inflation-adjusted to calendar year 2002, from the 2002 ACS.

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