Income Data for Policy Analysis: A Comparative Assessment of Eight Surveys. Next steps

12/23/2008

Our empirical findings using CPS income and family definitions show major differences among the eight surveys, including varying measures of total income, the distribution of income, earnings and earners, number and demographic composition of the poor, poverty rates, program participation, uninsured and low-income uninsured. Additional findings on response rates, allocation and imputation rates and rounding provide information on the quality and reliability of income data. However, standardization cannot adjust for many design features. These include SIPP’s four-month reference period and panel design, ACS’s rolling reference period versus NHIS’s fixed reference period with a variable recall interval, post-stratification in MEPS, and the contemporaneous poverty measure embedded in PSID. Other survey differences include the identification of relate to unrelated subfamilies, the timing of family composition, and the treatment of students. Simulations were informative about some of these features, but the big differences in design are not amenable to elucidation in this manner.

Lastly, it was not within the scope of this study to make recommendations based on the study findings. However, the study findings provide the groundwork for both a discussion of future directions and work on issues in individual surveys. We hope that we have provided a solid starting place and perhaps the basis for recommendations on survey improvements and future innovations.

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