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Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues
type of survey would attempt to oversample persons who are eligible and/or who are participating in welfare programs.
The issues related to these two types of telephone surveys, one from a list of welfare clients and one using RDD, overlap to a large degree. The following discussion reviews the common issues as well as the unique aspects related to each type of survey. In the next section, we discuss methods to increase response rates on telephone surveys, placing somewhat more emphasis on issues related to conducting surveys from lists of welfare clients. We chose this emphasis because this is the predominant method being used by states to evaluate welfare reform. The third section reviews a number of welfare studies that have been implemented recently. In this section we discuss how the methods that are being used match up with the “best practices” and how this may relate to response rates. The fourth section provides an overview of issues that are unique to RDD surveys when conducting a survey of low-income populations. To summarize the discussion, the final section highlights practices that can be implemented for a relatively low cost but that could have relatively large impacts.
METHODS TO INCREASE RESPONSE RATES
In this section we discuss the methods needed to obtain high response rates in a telephone survey. These methods include locating, contacting, and obtaining the cooperation of survey subjects. The review applies to all types of telephone surveys, but we have highlighted those methods that seem particularly important for conducting surveys from lists of welfare clients. A later section provides issues unique to RDD.
The Importance of Language
The methods discussed in the following sections should be considered in terms of the language and cultural diversity of the state being studied. The percentage of non-English speakers ranges from as high as a third in California to a quarter in New York and Texas, down to a low of 4 to 5 percent in South Carolina, Missouri, and Georgia (1990 Census). Spanish is the most common language spoken by non-English speakers. Again these percentages vary a great deal by state, with 20 percent of the population in California and Texas speaking Spanish at home and only 2 percent in South Carolina. These variations imply that surveys may have to be prepared to locate and interview respondents in languages other than English and Spanish. Moreover, language barriers are greater among low-income households, and low-income households are more likely to be isolated linguistically, where no one in the household speaks English.
The need for bilingual staff as well as Spanish (and perhaps other languages) versions of all questionnaires and materials is crucial, particularly in some states.