Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Methods for Obtaining High Response Rates in Telephone Surveys

06/01/2002

The purpose of this paper is to review methods used to conduct telephone surveys of low-income populations. The motivation for this review is to provide information on best practices applicable to studies currently being conducted to evaluate the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORAВ  hereafter referred to as Welfare Reform). The National Academy of Sciences panel observed that many of the states are conducting telephone surveys for this purpose and that it would be useful to provide them with information on the best methods for maximizing response rates. The information provided in this paper is intended to assist these individuals, as well as others, to either conduct these studies themselves or to evaluate and monitor contractors conducting the studies.

We have divided the telephone surveys into two types. The first, primary, method is to sample welfare recipients or welfare leavers from agency lists. This can take the form of a randomized experiment, where recipients are randomly assigned to different groups at intake, with a longitudinal survey following these individuals over an extended period of time. More commonly, it takes the form of a survey of those leaving welfare during a particular period (e.g., first quarter of the year). These individuals are then followed up after X months to assess how they are coping with being off welfare.

The second type of telephone survey is one completed using a sample generated by random digit dialing methods (RDD). In this type of study, telephone numbers are generated randomly. The numbers then are called and interviews are completed with those numbers that represent residential households and that agree to participate in the interview. To effectively evaluate welfare reform, this type of survey would attempt to oversample persons who are eligible and/or who are participating in welfare programs.

The issues related to these two types of telephone surveys, one from a list of welfare clients and one using RDD, overlap to a large degree. The following discussion reviews the common issues as well as the unique aspects related to each type of survey. In the next section, we discuss methods to increase response rates on telephone surveys, placing somewhat more emphasis on issues related to conducting surveys from lists of welfare clients. We chose this emphasis because this is the predominant method being used by states to evaluate welfare reform. The third section reviews a number of welfare studies that have been implemented recently. In this section we discuss how the methods that are being used match up with the best practices and how this may relate to response rates. The fourth section provides an overview of issues that are unique to RDD surveys when conducting a survey of low-income populations. To summarize the discussion, the final section highlights practices that can be implemented for a relatively low cost but that could have relatively large impacts.

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