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The Under-Reporting of Transfers in Household Surveys: Its Nature and Consequences

  • Bruce D. Meyer
  • Wallace K. C. Mok
  • James X. Sullivan

Benefit receipt in major household surveys is often under-reported. In recent years, as many as half of the dollars received through Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Workers’ Compensation has not been reported in the Current Population Survey (CPS). High rates of understatement are found for many other government transfer programs and in datasets such as the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). These datasets are among our most important for analyzing incomes and their distribution as well as transfer receipt. Thus, this understatement has major implications for our understanding of the economic circumstances of the population and the working of government programs. We provide estimates of the extent of transfer underreporting for ten of the main transfer programs and five major nationally representative household surveys. We obtain estimates by comparing weighted totals reported by households for these programs with those obtained from government agencies. We also examine imputation procedures and the share of reported benefits that are imputed. Our results show increases in under-reporting and imputation over time and sharp differences across programs and surveys. These differences shed light on the relative importance of the various reasons for underreporting.

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Paper provided by Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago in its series Working Papers with number 0903.

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Date of creation: Feb 2009
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Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:0903
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  1. Jonathan Fisher, 2006. "Income Imputation and the Analysis of Expenditure Data in the Consumer Expenditure Survey," Working Papers 394, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  2. Duncan, Greg J & Hill, Daniel H, 1989. "Assessing the Quality of Household Panel Data: The Case of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 7(4), pages 441-52, October.
  3. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2007. "Further Results on Measuring the Well-Being of the Poor Using Income and Consumption," Working Papers 0719, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  4. Bound, John & Brown, Charles & Mathiowetz, Nancy, 2001. "Measurement error in survey data," Handbook of Econometrics, in: J.J. Heckman & E.E. Leamer (ed.), Handbook of Econometrics, edition 1, volume 5, chapter 59, pages 3705-3843 Elsevier.
  5. Patricia M. Anderson & Bruce D. Meyer, 2005. "Unemployment Insurance Tax Burdens and Benefits: Funding Family Leave and Reforming the Payroll Tax," Working Papers 0601, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  6. Kathleen M. McGarry, 2002. "Guaranteed Income. SSI and the Well-Being of the Elderly Poor," NBER Chapters, in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 49-84 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2009. "Five Decades of Consumption and Income Poverty," Working Papers 0907, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  8. Rebecca M. Blank & Patricia Ruggles, 1993. "When Do Women Use AFDC & Food Stamps? The Dynamics of Eligibility vs. Participation," NBER Working Papers 4429, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. repec:mpr:mprres:6195 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Dean Jolliffe & Craig Gundersen & Laura Tiehen & Joshua Winicki, 2005. "Food Stamp Benefits and Child Poverty," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 87(3), pages 569-581.
  11. Robert I. Lerman & Kelly S. Mikelson, 2004. "Examining the Relationship between the EITC and Food Stamp Program Participation Among Households with Children," Econometric Society 2004 North American Summer Meetings 190, Econometric Society.
  12. John L. Czajka & Gabrielle Denmead, 2008. "Income Data for Policy Analysis: A Comparative Assessment of Eight Surveys," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 19724257b78544bdbd55f15be, Mathematica Policy Research.
  13. Bruce D. Meyer & James X. Sullivan, 2003. "Measuring the Well-Being of the Poor Using Income and Consumption," NBER Working Papers 9760, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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