Performance Improvement 2009. How Well Do We Measure Income, Family Structure and Poverty?


This study examined whether the same picture of the U.S. population was presented by four different surveys that had sought to measure income, family structure and poverty. Policy makers use national surveys to paint a picture of the U.S. population along a variety of dimensions such as poverty status, receipt of program benefits, demographic characteristics and health insurance coverage. Inferences are drawn about need and eligibility for Federal programs based on estimates produced by these surveys.

Measures of income and income recipiency (income received as a result of eligibility under a public program; term often used in the context of welfare receipt) varied substantially among the surveys even when comparable estimates of income in 2002 were constructed for each survey. Policy analysts may not be able to use the surveys with the best income data because other essential data are not collected, for example, lack of health information on the Current Population Survey, which is the official source of poverty statistics. Similarly, policy analysis requires information on each person in the family to calculate eligibility for program units smaller than the family or for ‘what-if’ scenarios to determine persons eligible but not participating in a program, or who would become eligible if the program were changed. The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) measures income only at the family level and uses a definition of family (treating unmarried partners as families) not currently used by Federally-funded transfer programs. Other important differences occur with respect to wages and salaries, poverty levels and for the elderly.

Report Title: Measuring Income and Poverty in Four Surveys: An Overview; Report may be obtained from Federal Contact
Agency Sponsor: ASPE-OSDP, Office of Science and Data Policy
Federal Contact: Joan Turek, 202-690-5965
Performer: Gabrielle Denmead, Denmead Services and Consulting
PIC ID: 9071

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