Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Using Survey Data to Measure Employment and Income

06/01/2002

In this section, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of measuring income and employment status for low-income populations using survey data. Most of our analysis focuses on the use of national surveys--CPS and SIPP in particular--because of the availability of several high-quality studies that compare their income and employment measures to other data sources. Where available, we also summarize studies that assess income and employment measurement with more targeted surveys.

The key features of the national surveys for the purposes of this paper are summarized in Table 9-1.

TABLE 9-1
Key features of selected national surveys that report employment and income
status of ndividuals and households
Feature Current Population Survey (CPS) Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979
Nationally representative sample? Yes Yes Only at sample Inception in 1968 No, but representative for cohorts covered at sample inception
Primary unit of analysis Household Household Household Individual
Longitudinal data? No Yes Yes Yes
Typical sample size 60,000 households 21,000 households 8,700 households 11,400 individuals
Capacity for state and local Analysis For all but small states For large states only Limited Limited
Coverage of income sources Broad Very broad Broad Very broad
Accuracy of earnings data(a) 97% 92% -- --
Accuracy of AFDC data(b)     -- --
Timeliness of data Several months 2+ years 2-year lag 1-2 year lag
Notes:
a For 1990, See Table 9-3.
b AFDC = Aid to Families with Dependent Children, for 1990, See Tables 9-2 and 9-3.

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