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Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues
employed to describe or infer patterns, trends, and relationships for groups of respondents and not for directing or managing the delivery of services.
Administrative data, however, are used primarily for the day-to-day operation of a program, and they typically only include information necessary for current transactions. Consequently, they often lack historical information such as past program participation and facts about individuals, such as educational achievement that would be useful for statistical analysis. In the past, when welfare programs were concerned primarily with current eligibility determination, historical data were often purged and data from other programs were not linked to welfare records. Researchers who used these data to study welfare found that they had to link records at the individual or case level over time to develop histories of welfare receipt for people. In addition, to make these data even more useful, they found it was worthwhile to perform data matches with information from other programs such as UI wage data; vital statistics on births, deaths, and marriages: and program participation in Medicaid, the Food Stamp Program, and other public programs. Once this matching was completed, researchers expunged individual identities, and they analyzed the data to produce information about overall trends and tendencies. Matched files are powerful research tools because they allow researchers to determine how participation in welfare varies with the characteristics of recipients and over time. They also provide information on outcomes such as child maltreatment, employment, and health.
Matched administrative data are becoming more and more widely used in the evaluation and management of social programs. In February 1999, UC Berkeley’s Data Archive and Technical Assistance completed a report to the Northwestern/ University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research that provided an inventory of social service program administrative databases in 26 states1 and an analysis of the efforts in these states to use administrative data for monitoring, evaluation, and research. Unlike other studies that have dealt with data sharing in general, this study was concerned primarily with the use of administrative data for research and policy analysis.
The UC study found that the use of administrative data for policy research was substantial and growing around the country. More than 100 administrative data-linking projects were identified in the study sample. Linkages were most common within public assistance programs (AFDC/TANF, Food Stamp Program, and Medicaid), but a majority of states also had projects linking public assistance data to Job Opportunities and Basic Skills, UI earnings, or child support data.
The 26 states inventoried in the report included the 10 states with the largest populations plus a random selection of at least four states from the northeast, south, west, and midwestern regions of the nation. These states comprise four-fifths of the U.S. population and more than five-sixths of the welfare population. This report can be viewed at http://ucdata.berkeley.edu.