Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors: Thirteenth Report to Congress. Appendix D. Technical Notes


Age Categories

Most of the indicators in Chapter II are shown by age categories, generally children ages 0 to 15, adults ages 16 to 64, and adults 65 and older. Youth 16, 17 and 18 years of age are often classified with adults because they are considered potential members of the labor force in many labor force statistics. Indicators based on program administrative data (Indicator 3) and many of the risk factors presented in Chapter III, however, use published data that generally define “children” to include all individuals less than 18 years of age.

Race and Ethnicity

Most of the data sources allow analysis of the indicators and predictors of welfare dependence across several racial/ethnic categories. Where the data are available, statistics are shown for three racial/ethnic groups – Non-Hispanic White, Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic. Due to small sample size, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Asians and Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders are included in the totals for all persons but are not shown under separate race categories. In some instances, however, data are shown for “Whites” and “Blacks,” rather than for “Non-Hispanic Whites” and “Non-Hispanic Blacks;” in such cases these racial categories include individuals of Hispanic Origin. Footnotes to the tables provide further documentation of issues related to race and ethnicity.

Estimates based on 2002 (and more recent) Current Population Survey (CPS) and Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data are affected by a change in the survey questionnaire that allows individuals to report one or more races. This change was implemented to comply with the 1997 Standards for Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. In 2000, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published guidelines for implementing these new standards. To accommodate the race categories under the new standards, CPS and SIPP estimates for racial/ethnic categories beginning in 2002 are for persons who are Non-Hispanic White (and no other race), Non-Hispanic Black (and no other race) and Hispanic (of any race). Persons who reported more than one race are included in the total for all persons but are not shown under any race category.

Family Structure Categories

For the primary measure of dependency, as well as selected indicators and many of our risk factor measures, estimates are provided for individual persons by family structure (see SUM 1, Indicator 1, Indicator 2, Indicator 5, ECON 3, ECON 7, and WORK 1). For these measures, the entire population is subdivided into the following four groups:

  • Persons in Married-Couple Families
  • Persons in Female-Headed Families
  • Persons in Male-Headed Families
  • Unrelated Persons.

Two additional measures use a subset of the above categories (see Indicator 4, and ECON 1).

Annual and Monthly Measures

There are differences between monthly and annual observation of benefit receipt. The measures of annual recipiency (that is, any receipt over the course of a year) shown in Figure and Table SUM 1 are higher than the more traditional measures of recipiency in an average month, as shown in several other indicators and in Appendix A. The annual recipiency measures in Figure and Table SUM 1 are not only higher because they include any receipt from at least one of three welfare programs (while average monthly administrative data focus on receipt from only one program), they also are higher because they capture program receipt received in as little as one month during a given year, whereas average monthly recipiency rates, by definition, average across all the months in a given year.

Our key measure of dependency for the report, following the Advisory Board’s proposal, also measures the level of benefit receipt among AFDC/TANF, SNAP and SSI on an annual basis (see Figure and Table SUM1 and Indicator 1), as does our long term AFDC/TANF receipt measure (Indicator 9). These measures capture any benefit receipt during the year, which differs from several other “annual” indicators in Chapter I that present average monthly estimates for each given year (see Indicators 2, 3, 4 and 5).

The report includes several monthly longitudinal measures that analyze monthly observations for individuals and families across multiple years. These measures are based on the SIPP and provide information on the number of consecutive months receiving welfare benefits (see Indicators 7 and 8) and the number of consecutive months poor (see ECON 5) during multi-year time periods.

Note that annual estimates provided throughout the report represent calendar years except where explicitly noted as fiscal years. Please see footnotes to each table in the report for further technical information and documentation of time period measurement issues.

Unit of Analysis

The individual, rather than the family or household, is the unit of analysis for most of the statistics in this report. The individual’s dependency status, however, is based on total family income, taking into account means-tested assistance, earnings and other sources of income for all individuals in the family.25 The introductory chapter of this report and our dependence indicators in Chapter II, for example, show the percentage of individuals that are dependent (see SUM 1, Indicator 1, and Indicator 6) according to annual total family income (including annual total family benefit receipt). This is similar to estimates of the number of individuals who are poor, which are based on the characteristics and total income of the family in which they live (see ECON 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5).

Recipiency status also is based on total annual family benefit receipt and income in some instances; in SUM 1, for example, recipients are individuals in families where at least one family member receives assistance from AFDC/TANF, SNAP or SSI at some point in the year. In most other indicators, however, recipiency is measured as the direct receipt of a benefit by an individual in a month (see Indicators 7 and 8), an average month across a given year (see Indicators 2, 3, 4, and 5) or at some point within a year (see Indicators 6 and 9). Note that the differences between individual and family measures of recipiency are largest in the SSI program, which provides benefits to individuals and couples, not to families.


Spells of program recipiency (Indicator 7), spells of welfare receipt with no attachment to the labor market (IND 8) and spells of poverty (ECON 5) are limited to those spells that begin during the SIPP panel of observation. Spells separated by only 1 month are not considered separate spells. If an individual has two or more spells of dependency, receipt, or poverty, each is counted separately in the analysis.

Data Source for Dependency Measure

Beginning with the 2001 report, there was a shift to using CPS rather than SIPP data for our main welfare dependency measure (as well as several other indicators and predictors of welfare recipiency and dependence). This change was necessary because CPS data are updated annually, while SIPP updates are available less frequently.

The CPS data have been widely used to measure trends since the welfare reform legislation of 1996. However, because the CPS does not collect income information in the same detail as the SIPP, it has been subject to criticism for higher levels of underreporting of income, particularly welfare income. To address this concern, our measure of dependency (as well as some of the other indicators in this report) are based on CPS data that have been analyzed by the Transfer Income Model (TRIM3), a microsimulation model developed by the Urban Institute under contract to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Although its primary purpose is to simulate program eligibility and the impact of policy proposals, the TRIM3 model also has been used to correct for underreporting of welfare receipt and benefits. Welfare caseloads in TRIM3 are based on CPS data, adjusted upward to ensure that total estimates of recipients equal the total counts from administrative data. To maintain consistency in data trends, we present estimates based on CPS data analyzed by TRIM3 beginning in 1993, the first year the TRIM3 microsimulation model became available.

As shown in Figure D-1, the overall measures of dependency and recipiency have not been greatly affected by the change in data sources. Both data sources show a decline in dependence between 1996 and 1999 and increases in dependence during the 2000s. Still, readers are cautioned against comparing measures for 1987-1995 from the SIPP data in the first three annual reports with the measures for 1993 and later from the TRIM3-adjusted CPS data.

Figure D-1. Recipiency and Dependency Rates from Two Data Sources: 1987 – 2011

(In percent)

Figure D-1. Recipiency and Dependency Rates from Two Data Sources: 1987 – 2011

Note: Recipiency is defined as living in a family with receipt of any amount of AFDC/TANF, SSI or SNAP during the year. Dependency is defined as living in a family having more than 50 percent of annual family income from AFDC/TANF, SSI and/or SNAP. Dependency rates would be lower if adjusted to exclude welfare assistance associated with working. While only affecting a small number of cases, General Assistance income is included within AFDC/TANF income and veterans’ pension benefits are included in means-tested assistance income for SIPP-based receipt and dependency estimates prior to 2001.

Source: Unpublished tabulations from the Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 1994-2007, analyzed using the TRIM3 microsimulation model, and unpublished tabulations from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 1987, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2004, and 2008 panels.

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