Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Description of Methods Used in Recent Studies

06/01/2002

To better understand the methods that have been implemented in recent studies of welfare reform, we collected information on a small sample of state surveys. The largest portion of our sample of studies is from the group of Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) grantees funded in FY99 (9 of the 13 studies). The remaining studies were chosen by networking or referral by colleagues. Information was collected through interviews with the director of the research team and any reports that were available. These studies are meant to represent what the current practice is for welfare-leaver studies.

A summary of key characteristics for these 13 surveys is shown in Table 2-2. In 12 of the 13 surveys for which we collected information, a mixed-mode, two-step, approach was used. First, as many telephone interviews as possible were conducted using information accessible to home office staff. Respondents were contacted initially using information available from the administrative records from the sample frame. Advance letters were sent out. For those persons who do not have a phone number, the letter asked for the subject to call an 800 number to do the interview or set up an appointment.

TABLE 2-2:
Results of Interviews With 14 Selected Telephone Surveys of Welfare or Ex-Welfare Recipients
Study
Number
Advance Letter/
Incentives
Telephone Tracking Sources Field Tracking Refusal
Conversion
Response
Rate %
Field Period
1 Yes/Yes Directory assistance No No 30 3 months
    Reverse directory        
2 Yes/Yes Directory assistance Yes Yes 51 9 months+
    Reverse directory Exp. staff      
    Specialized tracking Firm        
    Motor vehicle/ID records        
3 Yes/Yes Directory assistance Yes Yes Total: >70 5 months
    Credit databases Exp. staff   Tel: 50  
    Other welfare offices        
4 Yes/Yes Directory assistance Yes Yes Total: >70 5 months
    Credit Databases Exp. staff   Tel: 50  
    Other welfare offices        
5 Yes/Yes DK Yes DK 52 DK
      Unknown Exp.      
6 No/No Directory assistance Yes No Total: 78 4 months
    Other agency database Exp. staff   Tel: 66  
7 Yes/Yes Directory assistance Yes Yes Total: 72 60 months
    Credit databases Exp. staff   Tel: 25 . 30  
    Motor vehicle No exp.      
    Other agency databases        
8 Yes/Yes Reverse directory Yes no Total: 46 DK
    Other agencies No exp.   Tel: 40  
9 DK Directory assistance Yes DK Total: 80 DK
    Tracing contact Exp. staff   Tel: 50  
    Credit databases        
    Other agencies        
10 Yes/Yes Directory assistance Yes DK Total: 75 DK
    Credit databases Exp. staff      
    Other agencies        
11 Yes/Yes Directory assistance Yes Yes Total: 81%* DK
    Credit databases Exp. staff      
    Other Agencies        
12 Yes/Yes Directory Assistance No DK Total: 40 4 months
    Credit Databases        
    Other Agencies        
13 Yes/Yes Directory Assistance Yes No Total: 72 DK
    Other Agencies Exp. staff      
14++ Yes/Yes** Directory Assistance Yes No Total: 72 2 months
    Other Agencies No Exp   Tel: >65  
NOTES:
DK = Dont Know
* Response rate after 5 years.
** Used non-monetary incentive.
+ Interviewing period was 3 months. Used 6 months before interviewing period to establish contact information and find respondents.
++ Did extensive tracing over the telephone with highly experienced personnel.

If the telephone number did not lead to the subject, tracing was done from the home office. This typically included using directory assistance, reverse directories to find other addresses and free services on the Internet. Other methods implemented by most of the studies included:

  • Searches of credit databases: These include databases such as Transunion, CBI/Equifax and TRW. Stapulonis et al. (1999) report the use of an unnamed database that seemed to add information above and beyond these.
  • Searches of other databases across agencies: These included food stamps, unemployment insurance, child support enforcement, motor vehicles, Medicaid, employment training, Social Security, vital records, and state ID cards.

The ability to search the other databases was possible because in all cases the research organizations had the Social Security number of the respondent.

In discussions with different organizations, we got a clear sense that the original contact information was not of high quality. One study reported, for example, that 78 percent of the original phone numbers did not lead directly to subjects. This may be, in part, because there is very little need for agency representatives to maintain contact with recipients over the telephone. In one state, for example, recipients are paid using a debit card that is continually re-valued at the beginning of a payment period. Thus, the address and telephone number information is not used on a frequent basis. In a study conducted by Westat several years ago, a similar result was found when trying to locate convicted felons (Cantor, 1995). Contact information provided by probation officers was found to be accurate about 50 percent of the time.(2)

If the subject cannot be located with available contact information, the case is sent out into the field. In some instances, the field interviewer is expected to both locate and interview the subject. In other instances the interviewer asked the subject to call a central interviewing facility. If the subject does not have a telephone, the interviewer provides them with a cellular telephone to call the facility. Several organizations reported that having the respondent call into the central office allowed for more specialization in the field tracing task. Interviewers would not be required to administer the interview. When hiring field personnel, therefore, the agency should be able to recruit individuals who are especially adept at tracking and tracing.

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