Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. The Problem: Surveying Low-Income Populations

06/01/2002

To evaluate the effects of recent changes in welfare policy on the lives of people living at or below the poverty level, it is often necessary to survey a representative sample. As the chapter in this volume by Groves and Couper makes clear, achieving such a representative sample can be problematic both because members of low-income groups are hard to locate  they are more mobile, more likely to live in multifamily households, and less likely than the more affluent to have telephones  and because they may not be highly motivated to participate in surveys. Incentives  especially monetary incentives  are particularly useful in countering the second difficulty, as a supplement or complement to other efforts at persuasion. In this paper, we briefly consider why people participate in surveys (or fail to do so) and then review the use of incentives in counteracting certain kinds of nonresponses. We also review separately those findings that appear to be particularly relevant for low-income populations. Finally, we consider two special issues: The potential consequences of refusal conversion payments for respondents and interviewers, and the cost effectiveness of prepaid incentives.

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