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Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues
Administrative records can be a valuable source of information about the characteristics and experiences of welfare program beneficiaries and past beneficiaries. To comply with federally mandated time limits on receipt of TANF benefits, states will need to develop the capability to track recipients over time, something not usually done in the old AFDC system. Such longitudinal tracking capability should make program records more useful for analysis; however, differences in programs across states will likely make it harder to conduct cross-state analyses. Research use of administrative records, whether TANF records or records from other systems (e.g., Unemployment Insurance) that can be used to track selected outcomes for welfare and low-income populations, poses many challenges.
Four papers on administrative data covering a wide range of different topics are included in the volume. The four address (1) issues in the matching and cleaning of administrative data; (2) issues of access and confidentiality; (3) problems in measuring employment and income with administrative data compared to survey data; and (4) the availability of administrative data on children.
Issues in the matching and cleaning of administrative data are discussed by Goerge and Lee. The authors begin by noting the importance of “cleaning” administrative data in a comprehensive sense, namely, converting what are management files into analytic files suitable for research use. They also note the importance of matching records across multiple administrative data sets (i.e., record linkage), which provides more information on respondents. A number of issues are involved in the cleaning process, many of which involve methods for assessing data quality and other aspects of the variables available in the administrative data. A number of important issues in record linkage also are discussed, perhaps the most important being the availability and accuracy of matching variables. The authors discuss deterministic and probabilistic record linkage as well as data quality issues in such linkage. The paper concludes with a number of recommendations on the cleaning and linking of administrative data.
Brady, Grand, Powell, and Schink discuss access and confidentiality issues with administrative data in their paper and propose ways for increasing researcher access to administrative data. The authors begin by noting that the legal barriers to obtaining access to administrative data by researchers often are formidable. Although laws in this area generally are intended to apply to private individuals interested in identifying specific persons, researcher access often is denied even though the researcher has no interest in identities and often intends to use the research results to help improve administration of the program. The authors provide a brief overview of the legal framework surrounding administrative data, confidentiality, and privacy, making a number of important distinctions between different types of issues and clarifying the content of several pieces of legislation—federal and state—governing access and confidentiality. They then turn to