Developing Income-Related Statistics on Federal Disability Beneficiaries Using Nationally Representative Survey Data
DRC Working Paper Number: 18-05
Publisher: Washington, DC: Center for Studying Disability Policy, Mathematica Policy Research
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strong interest in investigating the extent to which Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients are financially secure, and in documenting that information on a regular basis. Yet, because SSA only collects from beneficiaries the information required to administer its programs, it does not have access to their complete financial status and must glean this information from another source. This report helps to achieve that objective by considering the strengths and limitations of using several nationally representative survey data sources to produce statistics related to income and poverty for SSDI and SSI beneficiaries. We consider statistics derived from three sources: the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS-ASEC) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), both collected by the United States Census Bureau, and the National Beneficiary Survey (NBS) collected by SSA. We selected these sources in consultation with SSA—after reviewing a range of available data—because they are nationally representative, measure beneficiary status, and span the range of working-age adults. The CPS-ASEC and SIPP are also linkable to SSA administrative data, which overcomes issues of survey respondents misreporting benefit receipt. We produced one version of statistics from those sources based solely on self-report (using the Public Use File, or PUF), and another version for which we substituted self-reported information about SSDI and SSI receipt with administrative records covering the same time period as the survey (using a Restricted Access File, or RAF). The NBS sample was derived from administrative records and using that information to measure disability benefit receipt. The SIPP and CPS-ASEC allow for comparisons of beneficiaries to non-beneficiaries, but that is not possible with the NBS, which surveys only beneficiaries. In the case of the NBS, we used only the RAF version of the file, which contains the more detailed income and poverty data available for our analysis. Using each of these five data sources, we produced statistics on income and poverty measures that are comparable (to the extent possible) to those that have appeared in other SSA publications. In this report, we document cross-survey differences with an eye toward helping SSA select the most appropriate source for a potential chart book, and to help explain how results would have differed had another source been selected instead.
- Even though all of the surveys are nationally representative, responses imply differences in the size of the beneficiary population as well as the share of beneficiaries who are DI-only, SSI-only, or concurrent. The beneficiary shares differ between the PUF and RAF versions of the SIPP and CPS-ASEC in ways generally consistent with earlier literature. Aggregate statistics on beneficiary counts mask what we found to be large misreporting of beneficiary status at the individual level, especially in the CPS-ASEC.
- Many sample characteristics are similar across surveys but there are some differences, including distributions of sex, age, marital status, and household size. Some, though not all, of these differences can be explained by differences in the survey questions and structure. Differences in beneficiary characteristics between the PUF and RAF versions of a data set highlight subgroups that are likely to misreport their benefits, including young and old respondents (who may confuse SSI and SSDI, or Old-Age and Survivors Insurance [OASI] and SSDI) and those who are married (who may misreport spousal benefits from another program).
- Despite differences in the beneficiary characteristics, the CPS-ASEC and SIPP generally paint a similar picture in overall mean and median household income, with modest differences between the PUF and RAF versions of each data set. The NBS is an outlier compared with the other two data sets: NBS shows that mean income levels among beneficiaries are approximately 30 to 50 percent lower than for the other surveys. This reflects several differences in how the NBS queries respondents about income relative to other surveys, and makes income data in the NBS of questionable value.
- Findings from the CPS-ASEC and SIPP show that beneficiaries are substantially more likely to be in poverty or near poverty than non-beneficiaries; SSDI-only beneficiaries fare better than SSI recipients. Consistent with the findings of other researchers, we find that poverty rates are slightly lower in the SIPP than in the CPS-ASEC, with more respondents in the SIPP being in income groups just above poverty. NBS poverty rates for beneficiaries are substantially higher than those from the other surveys, owing to the lower reported income levels.