Research & Analysis by Russell E. Hudson
The Social Security Administration (SSA) receives reports of earnings for the U.S. working population each year from employers and the Internal Revenue Service. The earnings information received is stored at SSA as the Master Earnings File (MEF) and is used to administer Social Security programs and to conduct research on the populations served by those programs. This article documents the history, content, limitations, complexities, and uses of the MEF (and data files derived from the MEF). It is intended for researchers who use earnings data to study work patterns and their implications, and for those interested in understanding the data used to administer the current-law programs.