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Comparing Measures of Earnings Instability Based on Survey and Adminstrative Reports


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  • Chinhui Juhn
  • Kristin McCue


In Celik, Juhn, McCue, and Thompson (2009), we found that estimated levels of earnings instability based on data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) were reasonably close to each other and to others’ estimates from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), but estimates from unemployment insurance (UI) earnings were much larger. Given that the UI data are from administrative records which are often posited to be more accurate than survey reports, this raises concerns that measures based on survey data understate true earnings instability. To address this, we use links between survey samples from the SIPP and UI earnings records in the LEHD database to identify sources of differences in work history and earnings information. Substantial work has been done comparing earnings levels from administrative records to those collected in the SIPP and CPS, but our understanding of earnings instability would benefit from further examination of differences across sources in the properties of changes in earnings. We first compare characteristics of the overall and matched samples to address issues of selection in the matching process. We then compare earnings levels and jobs in the SIPP and LEHD data to identify differences between them. Finally we begin to examine how such differences affect estimates of earnings instability. Our preliminary findings suggest that differences in earnings changes for those in the lower tail of the earnings distribution account for much of the difference in instability estimates.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau in its series Working Papers with number 10-15.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cen:wpaper:10-15

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Cited by:
  1. Jäntti, Markus & Jenkins, Stephen P., 2013. "Income Mobility," IZA Discussion Papers 7730, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Ziliak, James P. & Hardy, Bradley & Bollinger, Christopher, 2011. "Earnings volatility in America: Evidence from matched CPS," Labour Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 742-754.
  3. Jantti, Markus & Jenkins, Stephen P., 2013. "Income mobility," ISER Working Paper Series 2013-23, Institute for Social and Economic Research.


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