When Every Dollar Counts: Comparing Reported Earnings of Social Security Disability Program Beneficiaries in Survey and Administrative Records

Publisher: Social Security Bulletin, vol. 78, no. 4
Nov 01, 2018
Authors
David C. Wittenburg, Jeffrey Hemmeter, Holly Matulewicz, Lindsay Glassman, and Lisa Schwartz

Key Findings:

  • Estimated employment rates and earnings levels are consistently higher in administrative data than in survey data.
  • Although administrative data appear to offer greater precision than survey data in measuring annual employment and earnings, they are extremely limited in measuring other characteristics of employment.
This article examines differences between survey- and administrative data–based estimates of employment and earnings for a sample of Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries. We use linked records from the Social Security Administration's National Beneficiary Survey and administrative earnings records from the agency's Master Earnings File. We find that estimated employment rates and earnings levels are consistently higher in administrative data than in survey data. The differences between survey- and administrative data–based estimates of employment rates and earnings are larger in absolute and proportional terms for beneficiary sociodemographic subgroups whose survey-reported employment rates are lower than those of beneficiaries overall. Nonetheless, we estimate beneficiary employment rates of less than 20 percent from both survey and administrative data, suggesting that both sources provide plausible estimates for the overall beneficiary population.