Errors in Reporting and Imputation of Government Benefits and Their Implications

67 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2021

See all articles by Pablo A. Celhay

Pablo A. Celhay

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

Bruce Meyer

University of Chicago

Nikolas Mittag

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy

Date Written: August 30, 2021

Abstract

We document the extent, nature, and consequences of survey errors in cash welfare and SNAP receipt in three major U.S. household surveys. We find high rates of misreporting, particularly failure to report receipt. The surveys inaccurately capture patterns of multiple program participation, even though there is little evidence of program confusion. Error rates are higher among imputed observations, which account for a large share of false positive errors. Many household characteristics have significant effects on both false positives and false negative errors. Error rates sharply differ by race, ethnicity, income and other household characteristics. The errors greatly affect models of program receipt and estimated effects of income and race are noticeably biased. We examine error due to item non-response and imputation, as well as whether imputation improves estimates. Item non-respondents have higher receipt rates than the population conditional on covariates. The assumptions for consistent estimates in multivariate models fail both when excluding item non-respondents and when using the imputed values. In binary choice models of program receipt, linked data estimates favor excluding item non- respondents rather than using imputed values. Biases are well predicted by the error patterns we document, helping researchers make informed decisions on whether to use imputed values. 

JEL Classification: C81,D31,I32,I38

Suggested Citation

Celhay, Pablo A. and Meyer, Bruce and Mittag, Nikolas, Errors in Reporting and Imputation of Government Benefits and Their Implications (August 30, 2021). University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute for Economics Working Paper No. 2021-102, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3915698 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3915698

Pablo A. Celhay

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile ( email )

Av Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins 340
Santiago, RegiĆ³n Metropolitana 8331150
Chile

Bruce Meyer (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Nikolas Mittag

University of Chicago - Harris School of Public Policy ( email )

1155 East 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
9
Abstract Views
106
PlumX Metrics