Research and Analysis by T. Lynn Fisher
This article provides an overview of the Retirement Research Consortium (RRC) from the Social Security Administration's perspective, including a brief history of the development of the RRC, a discussion of the aims of the RRC, and some thoughts on its future. The mission of the RRC is to plan and conduct a broad research program to develop Social Security and retirement policy information to assist policymakers, the public, and the media in understanding the issues. The RRC has been a remarkably successful extramural research venture that has advanced the knowledge base on Social Security and retirement issues, trained new scholars to become the next generation of Social Security and retirement policy experts, and provided objective, research-based input to the policymaking process.
Measurement Issues Associated with Using Survey Data Matched with Administrative Data from the Social Security Administration
Researchers using survey data matched with administrative data benefit from the rich demographic and economic detail available from survey data combined with detailed programmatic data from administrative records. This article focuses on survey data matched with administrative data from the Social Security Administration and addresses the strengths and weaknesses of each in four specific areas: program participation and benefits, disability and health information, earnings, and deferred compensation The article discusses the implications of these strengths and weaknesses for decisions that researchers must make regarding the appropriate data source and definition for the concepts in question.
Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI, Social Security) benefits are indexed for inflation to protect beneficiaries from the loss of purchasing power implied by inflation. In the absence of such indexing, the purchasing power of Social Security benefits would be eroded as rising prices raised the cost of living. Recently, the Consumer Price Index used to calculate the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for OASDI benefits has come under increased scrutiny. Some argue that the current index does not accurately reflect the inflation experienced by seniors and that COLAs should be larger. Others argue that the measure of inflation underlying the COLA has technical limitations that cause it to overestimate changes in the cost of living and that COLAs should be smaller. This article discusses some of the issues involved with indexing Social Security benefits for inflation and examines the ramifications of potential changes to COLA calculations.
The Impact of Survey Choice on Measuring the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
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.
The Impact of the Unit of Observation on the Measurement of the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
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.
Estimates of Unreported Asset Income in the Survey of Consumer Finances and the Relative Importance of Social Security Benefits to the Elderly
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.
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.