Selected Research & Analysis: Data > Measurement Methodology

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Social Security Administration Disability Programs and Individuals Facing Homelessness
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 81, No. 2 (released May 2021)
by Joyce Nicholas and Thomas W. Hale

This article examines the geographic, demographic, socioeconomic, and program-participation characteristics of initial Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) applicants who faced homelessness during 2007–2017. Using Social Security Administration data, the authors chart the distribution of homeless SSI/DI applicants and beneficiaries across county-equivalent areas in the contiguous United States. They also use a text-mining method to identify 162,536 potentially homeless disability-program applicants, in addition to the 647,790 applicants identified using the standard homeless-status indicators in the administrative data. They find that homelessness among disability-program applicants was largely an urban phenomenon, with almost half (42.1 percent) of applicants living in one of 25 urban areas. Relative to their domiciled counterparts, homeless disability-program applicants were far more likely to be male, aged 18–64, and without a high school or general equivalency diploma.

Improving the Measurement of Retirement Income of the Aged Population
ORES Working Paper No. 116 (released January 2021)
by Irena Dushi and Brad Trenkamp

Research has shown that survey-reported pension and retirement income measures may suffer from reporting errors, which lead to biased estimates of income and poverty of the aged population. In this paper, the authors evaluate income estimates from the Census Bureau's 2016 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). The authors compare 2016 CPS ASEC public-use data with public-use survey data from the 2016 Health and Retirement Study and with CPS ASEC data that have been merged with administrative data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration. They find that for the population aged 65 or older, supplementing the CPS ASEC with IRS and Social Security administrative data results in a higher estimate of pension income's share of aggregate income, less estimated reliance on Social Security, and a lower estimated rate of poverty. They also find that the HRS provides better estimates of the income of the aged population than the public-use CPS data.

When Every Dollar Counts: Comparing Reported Earnings of Social Security Disability Program Beneficiaries in Survey and Administrative Records
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 4 (released November 2018)
by David C. Wittenburg, Jeffrey Hemmeter, Holly Matulewicz, Lindsay Glassman, and Lisa Schwartz

This article examines differences between survey- and administrative data–based estimates of employment and earnings for a sample of Social Security Administration (SSA) disability program beneficiaries. The analysis uses linked records from SSA's National Beneficiary Survey and administrative data from the agency's Master Earnings File. The authors find that estimated employment rates and earnings levels based on administrative data are higher than those based on survey data for beneficiaries overall and by sociodemographic subgroup. In proportional terms, the differences between survey and administrative data tend to be greater among subgroups with survey-reported employment rates that are lower than that of beneficiaries overall.

Poverty Among the Aged Population: The Role of Out-of-Pocket Medical Expenditures and Annuitized Assets in Supplemental Poverty Measure Estimates
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 1 (released February 2018)
by Koji Chavez, Christopher Wimer, David M. Betson, and Lucas Manfield

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) does not account for the aged population's ability to draw from asset principal to cover living expenses. In this article, the authors ask two questions: (1) How much can we conservatively expect the aged to withdraw from their assets annually, and (2) To what extent would the inclusion of such assets alter the estimated proportion of the aged in SPM poverty—specifically, the proportion of the aged who are “pushed” into SPM poverty because of their medical out-of-pocket expenditures?

The Legacy Debt Associated with Past Social Security Transfers
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 76, No. 3 (released August 2016)
by Dean R. Leimer

A number of studies have used estimates of historical and projected lifetime net transfers (benefits less taxes) by birth cohort under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance program to calculate and compare the aggregate present-value sum of such transfers for selected birth-cohort groups. Those calculations indicate that, from a program accounting perspective, the earliest generations of program participants received large transfers from later generations of participants. Some recent studies have referred to this cumulative transfer to the earliest generations as a “legacy debt” and characterized it as a burden borne by the later generations. This article clarifies the legacy debt concept and discusses the conditions required for a legacy debt to exist in a meaningful economic sense.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) and Children: How and Why the SPM and Official Poverty Estimates Differ
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 3 (released August 2015)
by Benjamin Bridges and Robert V. Gesumaria

In 2011, the Census Bureau released its first report on the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM addresses many criticisms of the official poverty measure, and its intent is to provide an improved statistical picture of poverty. This article examines the extent of poverty identified by the two measures. The authors present a detailed examination of poverty among children (aged 0–17). For a more comprehensive view of poverty and comparison purposes, some findings are presented for two older segments of the U.S. population.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) and Nonaged Adults: How and Why the SPM and Official Poverty Estimates Differ
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 75, No. 2 (released May 2015)
by Benjamin Bridges and Robert V. Gesumaria

In 2011, the Census Bureau released its first report on the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM addresses many criticisms of the official poverty measure, and its intent is to provide an improved statistical picture of poverty. This article examines the extent of poverty identified by the two measures. The authors present a detailed examination of poverty among nonaged adults (those aged 18–64). For a more comprehensive view of poverty and comparison purposes, some findings are presented for younger and older segments of the population.

The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) and the Aged: How and Why the SPM and Official Poverty Estimates Differ
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 4 (released November 2013)
by Benjamin Bridges and Robert V. Gesumaria

In November 2011, the Census Bureau released its first report on the Supplemental Poverty Measure. The SPM addresses many criticisms of the official poverty measure and is intended to provide an improved statistical picture of poverty. This article examines the extent of poverty identified by the two measures. First, we look at how the SPM and official estimates differ for various aged and nonaged groups. Then, we look at why the SPM poverty rate for the aged is much higher than the official rate.

Social Security Income Measurement in Two Surveys
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 73, No. 3 (released August 2013)
by Howard M. Iams and Patrick J. Purcell

The deduction of Medicare premiums from Social Security benefit payments complicates the estimation of Social Security income in household surveys. Although the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS) and Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) both aim to collect and record gross Social Security benefit income before Medicare premium deductions, comparing the survey data with Social Security records indicates that the CPS and SIPP estimates differ and suggests that some survey respondents may report net benefit income.

Shifting Income Sources of the Aged
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 72, No. 3 (released August 2012)
by Chris E. Anguelov, Howard M. Iams, and Patrick J. Purcell

This article discusses the importance of 401(k)-type defined contribution plans and individual retirement accounts in providing retirement income for current and future retirees. The rising prevalence and importance of this type of income creates measurement errors in the Current Population Survey and other sources of data on the income of the aged because those sources substantially underreport the distributions from such retirement plans.

Defined Contribution Pension Participation and Contributions by Earnings Levels Using Administrative Data
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 2 (released May 2011)
by Irena Dushi, Howard M. Iams, and Christopher R. Tamborini

This article examines the relationship between earnings levels and participation and contribution rates in defined contribution (DC) retirement plans. Specifically, the article estimates DC plan participation and contribution rates in 2006 both by the worker's current earnings and by the annual average of real earnings over the 10-year period 1997–2006. Using these two different measures of earnings allows us to assess whether employing a longer period of earnings, such as a decade, provides a better representation of pension outcomes than the short-term measure of current earnings.

The Impact of Response Error on Participation Rates and Contributions to Defined Contribution Pension Plans
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 70, No. 1 (released February 2010)
by Irena Dushi and Howard M. Iams

The accuracy of information about coverage and contributions to defined contribution (DC) pension plans is important in understanding the economic well-being of future retirees because these plans are an increasingly important part of retirement income security. Using data from the 1996 and 2004 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) merged with information from W-2 tax records, we examine the extent to which estimated participation rates and contribution amounts to DC plans derived from SIPP reports differ from estimates obtained from tax-deferred contributions in the W-2 tax records.

A Progressivity Index for Social Security
Issue Paper No. 2009-01 (released January 2009)
by Andrew G. Biggs, Mark A. Sarney, and Christopher R. Tamborini

Using the Social Security Administration's MINT (Modeling Income in the Near Term) model, this paper analyzes the progressivity of the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program for current and future retirees. It uses a progressivity index that provides a summary measure of the distribution of taxes and benefits on a lifetime basis. Results indicate that OASDI lies roughly halfway between a flat replacement rate and a flat dollar benefit for current retirees. Projections suggest that progressivity will remain relatively similar for future retirees. In addition, the paper estimates the effects of several policy changes on progressivity for future retirees.

Remembering Mollie Orshansky—The Developer of the Poverty Thresholds
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3 (released December 2008)
by Gordon M. Fisher

In a federal government career that lasted more than four decades, Mollie Orshansky worked for the Children's Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, the Social Security Administration, and other agencies. While working at the Social Security Administration during the 1960s, she developed the poverty thresholds that became the federal government's official statistical measure of poverty; her thresholds remain a major feature of the architecture of American social policy and are widely known internationally.

Alternate Measures of Replacement Rates for Social Security Benefits and Retirement Income
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 2 (released October 2008)
by Andrew G. Biggs and Glenn R. Springstead

Replacement rates are common and useful tools used by individuals and policy analysts to plan for retirement and assess the sufficiency of Social Security benefits and overall retirement income. Because the calculation and meaning of replacement rates differs depending on the definition of preretirement earnings, this article examines four alternative measures: final preretirement earnings, constant income payable from the present value of lifetime earnings (PV payment), wage-indexed average of lifetime earnings, and inflation-adjusted average of lifetime earnings (CPI average). The article also calculates replacement rates for Social Security beneficiaries aged 64–66 in 2005.

Estimating the First Instance of Substantive-Covered Earnings in the Labor Market
Research and Statistics Note No. 2008-04 (released September 2008)
by Michael Compson
The Impact of the Unit of Observation on the Measurement of the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 2 (released February 2008)
by T. Lynn Fisher

Other publications using the same data source as Income of the Population 55 or Older, 2004 have produced different statistics for income and the relative importance of Social Security that appear contradictory. Depending on the unit of observation and whose income is considered, the estimates of the percentage of the elderly receiving all of their income from Social Security in 2004 varies from 13 percent to 22 percent. This article explains how the choice of the unit of observation impacts measures of the relative importance of Social Security benefits for the elderly.

Measuring the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 2 (released February 2008)
by T. Lynn Fisher

Provided is a discussion of the cumulative effects of the measurement alternatives described in the three previous articles: considering family income of persons rather than aged units, using administrative data in place of survey reported data, and switching the data source from CPS to SIPP. The current-methodology CPS statistic of 17.9 percent of beneficiary aged units receiving all of their income from Social Security in 1996 falls to a substantially smaller estimated 4.5 percent of elderly beneficiary persons based on family income when using the SIPP and Social Security administrative data.

The Impact of Survey Choice on Measuring the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 2 (released February 2008)
by T. Lynn Fisher

This article provides insight into how measures of elderly economic well-being are sensitive to the survey data source. In Social Security Administration's publication Income of the Population 55 or Older, data are based on the national Current Population Survey (CPS). The preciseness of the survey statistics depends upon the willingness and ability of CPS respondents to answer questions accurately. This article contrasts income statistics calculated using the CPS and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). Administrative data for Social Security benefits and SSI are also used to evaluate the accuracy of the income estimates.

Estimates of Unreported Asset Income in the Survey of Consumer Finances and the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 2 (released February 2008)
by T. Lynn Fisher

Through the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Income of the Population 55 or Older has reported a decline in the proportion of the elderly receiving asset income and the corresponding rise in the proportion receiving all of their income from Social Security. This analysis uses the Survey of Consumer Finances from 1992 to 2001 to examine financial asset holdings of the elderly and to determine if those who do not report asset income in fact might hold assets that are likely to generate income. Imputing asset income from likely income-producing holdings, the article examines the impact of probable missing asset income information upon measures of elderly income.

Benefit Adequacy in State Workers' Compensation Programs
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 65, No. 4 (released May 2005)
by H. Allan Hunt

This article summarizes several different methods used to measure the adequacy of wage replacement in state workers' compensation systems in the United States. Empirical research casts serious doubt on benefit adequacy, especially in the case of more serious disabilities.

Collecting Information on Disability in the 2000 Census: An Example of Interagency Cooperation
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 4 (released April 2000)
by Michele C. Adler, Robert F. Clark, Theresa J. DeMaio, Louisa F. Miller, and Arlene F. Saluter

This article reports research and analysis undertaken by a very successful collaborative, federal interagency work group on disability, convened by the Office of Management and Budget and charged with the development of a short set of disability questions for Census 2000. The process that culminated in the final disability questions on Census 2000 is described, along with a discussion of the complexities of defining and measuring disability.

Application of Experimental Poverty Measures to the Aged
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 3 (released January 2000)
by Kelly A. Olsen

This article examines poverty among persons aged 65 or older under experimental measures, which are based on a 1995 report released by the National Academy of Sciences. When compared with the official measure, the experimental measure produces higher poverty rates for all groups and narrower differences in poverty rates across groups.

A Guide to Social Security Money's Worth Issues
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 58, No. 2 (released April 1995)
by Dean R. Leimer

This article discusses some of the major issues associated with the question of whether workers receive their money's worth from the Social Security program. An effort is made to keep the discussion as nontechnical as possible, with explanations provided for many of the technical terms and concepts found in the money's worth literature. Major assumptions, key analytical methods, and money's worth measures used in the literature are also discussed. Finally, the key findings of money's worth studies are summarized, with some cautions concerning the limitations and appropriate usage of money's worth analyses.

The Development and History of the Poverty Thresholds
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 4 (released October 1992)
by Gordon M. Fisher
Reflections on the Income Estimates from the Initial Panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP)
ORES Working Paper No. 39 (released September 1989)
by Denton R. Vaughan

The Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) represents a major effort on the part of the Federal statistical community to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of information on the economic resources of the household sector and to permit a more accurate portrayal of the impact of government tax and transfer programs on the economic status of the population.

This paper will not offer a comprehensive and definitive statement on the quality of SIPP income data. Neither the time nor resources available to the author, nor indeed, the state of SIPP data products, would permit making such a statement. However, enough information is available to offer a tentative interpretation of important aspects of the income data available from the first SIPP panel. Two broad themes will be touched upon. Since it is generally believed that the major technical defect of income surveys is the substantial tendency to underidentify the sources and amounts of income received by the population, the issue of the completeness of the SIPP money income estimates will be the central issue. A second important aspect of income data has to do with its suitability for analytic purposes.

Statistical Methods for the Estimation of Costs in the Medicare Waiting Period for Social Security Disabled Worker Beneficiaries
ORES Working Paper No. 37 (released March 1989)
by Barry V. Bye and Gerald F. Riley

This paper presents the statistical methods used to estimate Medicare costs in the waiting period that were presented in text tables 2–3 of Bye and Riley (1989). The first part describes the development of Medicare utilization equations for each Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program status group. The second part describes how these equations were used to predict expected costs per month and how the monthly estimates were aggregated to yield estimates of costs in the full 2-year waiting period and in the second year only. Finally, there is a brief discussion of the accuracy of the predictions.

Selection of Simple and Stratified Random Samples of Fixed Size Without Replacement
ORES Working Paper No. 9 (released June 1979)
by Michael H. Bostron

For the past few years, the Division of Disability Studies has been using simple random and stratified random sampling procedures for many of its studies. The beneficiary sample for the 1978 Survey of Disability and Work was a stratified random sample drawn from the Master Benefit Record. The samples used in the Study of Consistency and Validity of Initial Disability Decisions and the Trial Work Period Folder Study also used simple random sampling procedures. Simple random subsampling has been used to enable multivariate analysis to be performed on files that would otherwise have been too large for existing software.

Because of the Division of Disability Studies' wide use of simple and stratified random sampling designs, software was developed to efficiently accomplish these sampling schemes. This paper describes the algorithm and presents the computer programs that are currently being used in the division.

Coefficients of Between-Group Inequality: A Review
ORES Working Paper No. 8 (released May 1979)
by Bertram Kestenbaum

The quest for suitable indices to summarize the inequality between two groups has lagged behind the effort to obtain summary coefficients of within-group inequality. Numerous measures of within-group inequality were proposed, and their merits and shortcomings debated. Yet, apparently, at the same time, there was little exploration of alternative indices to the ratio-of-medians and ratio-of-means for measuring differences between groups.

A Measure of Functional Capacity
ORES Working Paper No. 4 (released March 1979)
by Sandy Duchnok

A long-term disability reflects the interaction between a continued physical or mental impairment that limits functioning and restrictions and requirements of the social environment. Impairments and functional limitations are, however, central to any disability, and the Social Security Administration is constructing measures to assess the impact these factors have on the development of disability.

In particular, SSA is interested in work disability or loss of or reduction in the ability to work. The functional capacity index presented in this paper was developed for that purpose. Based on a model prevalent in the literature, the index is an attempt to represent the underlying medically related aspects of disability in contrast to other factors such as the person's age, educational level, or work history.

Technical Note on Source and Reliability of the Estimates for the 1963 Survey of the Aged
from Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 27, No. 7 (released July 1964)