Identifying The Race Or Ethnicity Of SSI Recipients

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Despitemany decadesofdata collection, SSA hasproblems presenting data onIdentifying the Race or Ethnicity of SSI Recipientsthe race and ethnicity ofprogram beneficiaries. Byby Charlesusing several statisticaltechniques, however, it ispossible to make better useof the data at hand.Summary*Division of SSI Statisticsand Analysis, Office ofResearch, Evaluation, andStatistics, Office of Policy,Social Security Administration.The author thanks JackSchmulowitz for papersdocumenting his extensive workin this area.G. Scott*The Social Security Administration (SSA)has, from its beginnings, recorded the race andethnicity provided by those who apply for aSocial Security card. Although some of thesedata are eventually used in published tabulations when persons file for benefits, problemswith the data prevent a larger selection ofpublished tables. These problems stem from:techniques will become less useful, and othermethods will be needed. SSA is in the processof revising its standards for classification offederal data on race and ethnicity. Thecensus for year 2000 will include codingchanges. Other federal agencies will be givenas long as January 2003 to comply with thenew guidelines.Introduction incomplete internal SSA computerprocessing;. changes in the racial codingschemes over time; and missing codes for younger cohortsof applicants,In spite of these problems, more data can beshared with the public. This article shows howmatching administrative files and usingstatistical techniques make it possible toassociate a race/ethnicity code with the greatmajority of persons receiving a payment underthe Supplemental Security Income (SSI)program, a means-tested program for personswho are aged or disabled. The article follows aThe Social Security Administrationproduces data to help the public, the Congress, and the research community, assess theimpacts of its programs on people. Importantdemographic variables include the age, race,and sex of beneficiaries. Frequently, personswant to know how the beneficiaries of SSA'sprograms are represented among variousdemographic groups.Through the years, the agency haspublished a wide range of data on recipientsof SSI to answer many demographic questions. SSA has not published extensive dataon the race of recipients, however, in spite ofthe fact that the agency has collected information on race since the 1930s. This article:l-percent sample of SSI recipients throughseveral steps in an attempt to develop a racecode. describes the process for collectingdata on the race and ethnicity of SSIThis approach can provide data for the nextseveral years on the race of all SSI recipients, aswell as data on race and ethnicity for recipientsunder age 40. Beyond the next few years, theserecipients; explains the problems that limit thepublication of consistent data onrace;Social Security Bulletin Vol.62 No. 4 19999

suggests ways that the data collection processcan be improved; and presents data on the race or ethnicity of SSIrecipients,We illustrate the discussion using data for a sample of SSIrecipients in November 1998.HowSSACollectsDataon RaceSince the 1930s, SSA has collected data on race or ethnicityfrom those applying for Social Security numbers (SSNs). Theform SS-5 (the application for an SSN) is the source for data onrace and ethnicity and contains questions about the applicant'sname, date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, father'scomputer file is now called the Master Earnings File (MEF).Records are created on the MEF when an account number isissued and updated with earnings data. The original MEFrecord includes the race code taken from each SS-5 when it isfiled. Therefore, the original race codes were split between twofiles--the Numident file, which contained the codes for personswho had not yet filed for benefits and all new SS-5s; and theMEF file, which contained codes for all persons. The MEF,however, had certain limitations of its own with respect to race/ethnicity. While the Numident contains all SS-5 entries, theirdates and corresponding race codes, the MEF contains only asingle entry for race, does not update that code, and does notassociate a date with the race code. The lack of date for thecode would become an important obstacle in the event the codeis changed, and it was in late 1980.name, and race/ethnic description. Prior to 1980, the choicesgiven on the race/ethnic question were "White," "Negro," orChanging"Other." In the early years, the typical application was filed inorder to secure an account number that, in turn, permitted theperson to work. The employer then reported wages under thataccount number, and information from the SS-5 was used manyyears later to verify Social Security benefit eligibility. SS-5application forms were stored at the SSA headquarters inBaltimore until a person filed for benefits; files were thenIn late 1980, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)required a change in the code and suggested several options.One was to separate racial and ethnic topics into separatequestions. SSA decided to continue with a single question bycombining the ethnic and racial topics, with permitted responses of "White," "Black," "Hispanic," "Asian or PacificIslander," or "American Indian or Alaskan Native." Thisreturned to the 1,300 field offices across the country to assist indeterminations of program eligibility,In addition to the original application for an account number,SS-5 applications were filed whenever there was a change toany of the information previously submitted. A typical correction was a change in middle name or surname when womenmarried. But by far, the most common occurrence for anadditional application was a request for a replacement card.decision was effective in keeping the size of the SS-5 application to a minimum, but it also muddied the waters with respectto racial and ethnic distinctions. And, worse, the new code wasapparently not compatible with the old one. Account numberapplicants opting for the Hispanic designation after 1980, mightwell have answered as white, negro, or other under the pre-1980coding scheme. It was also not clear how Asians or NativeAmericans (formerly referred to on the SS-5 as "AmericanIndians") would have responded under the older scheme.Computerizingthe SS-5the RaceCodeFileOver time several important changes occurred to both theEnumerationAt Birthrace/ethnicity codes and the process for reporting them. Thefirst occurred in the mid- 1970s, when the SS-5 file, housed in theBaltimore headquarters, was converted to a computer file calledthe Numident (number identification). At that time, all existingIn past decades, persons typically applied for an SSN whenthey sought their first employment. In recent years an SSN isneeded well before they seek a job. Because the SSN is nowused for tax purposes, and it has become the de facto nationalSS-5s were placed on the new Numident file. Today, that filecontains over 700 million records for 400 million accountnumber holders. The Numident was incomplete with respect torace, however, because when the SS-5s were returned to thefield after an application for SSA program benefits was filed, aspecial form was put in its place. This new form contained mostof the original SS-5 information, but lacked the race code.Therefore, race data was missing for many persons who wereidentifier, many persons need the number at birth. In responseto this need, beginning in 1989 SSA entered into agreementswith all 50 states to provide "enumeration at birth." When aninfant is born, the hospital representative asks the parent if he/she would like the birth certificate data transmitted to SSA sothat an account number can be issued. The data are forwardedto the state's vital statistics office, and from there to the SSA,where a card is issued and a record created on both thereceiving benefits when the Numident was created. Thatshortcoming was never corrected, and the Numident still doesnot have data on race/ethnicity for many persons receivingNumident and MEF files. The problem with this procedure isthat race/ethnicity information is not included because it isshown on the birth certificate under "Information for Medicalbenefits on or before 1979.All was not lost, however, because SSA had also developeda computer file for the purpose of recording earnings data. Thisand Health Use Only." This means that SSA gets no race/ethnic data at the point of birth, and receipt of these data islimited to additional applications filed in the ensuing years.10Social Security Bulletin Vol, 62 No. 4 - 1999

Associatingthe RaceWith SSI RecipientsCodesTo provide data on the racial/ethnic distribution of SSAbeneficiary populations, it is necessary to take the codes fromthe Numident and MEF source files and place them on theappropriate beneficiary files. Those beneficiary files are theMaster Beneficiary Record (MBR) for persons receivingSocial Security disability or retirement benefits and theSupplemental Security Record (SSR) for persons receivingmeans-tested benefits under the SSI program. This articlefocuses on the SSI population, since SSI recipients are moreevenly spread among all age groups than are recipients withthe other two programs and, therefore, are particularly usefulin illustrating a discussion on race coding,SSI is a federal income assistance program for low-incomepersons who are aged, blind, or disabled. In November 1998,there were about 6.5 million recipients of all ages. Theseeligible persons may apply for benefits at any of the SSA fieldoffices across the country. Once they are found eligible forpayments, a record is created on the SSR, the main computerfile used in administering the program. At that time, the newlycreated records are matched to the Numident file to secure thelatest information on race/ethnicity. A single code is broughtacross to the SSR, and no date is attached to it. No furtherassociation is made with the Numident, even if subsequentSS-5s are received in the Numident and even if there was nocode available at the point of award. This system, established at the beginning of the SSI program in 1974, makes twoassumptions: (1) there would be only one coding scheme; and(2) there would be a race/ethnic code for almost everyone atthe point of award for benefits,As it happens, neither of these assumptions proved to becorrect, since, as explained earlier, (1) the coding scheme waschanged in 1980, and (2) neither the lack of race informationtaken through the enumeration-at-birth program, nor theincreasing numbers of persons declining to complete tl e racequestion on their latest SS-5s, has added to what is knownabout the racial identity of applicants. Nevertheless, thissystem has never been changed and, unfortunately, results inone of the principal stumbling blocks to presenting better dataon race/ethnicity.Race Codingon the SSRTo explore the system of race/ethnic coding for SSIrecipients, we selected a 1-percent sample of recipients fromthe 6,589,000 recipients in Nox ember 1998 from the SSR. Untilthe very end, this report shows data for these 65,890 samplerecipients without adjusting the figures to represent the entireuniverse of SSI recipients. Table 1 shows the age distributionof the current race/ethnicity coding on the SSR.By arraying the data by age groups, many of the inadequacies of the SSR code become apparent. The first problem isthat the overall percentage of those with some sort oflegitimate code is less than 85 percent, and that 85 percentfigure masks larger problems at either end of the age spectrum.Among recipients under the age of 9, the completion rate is adismal 41.8 percent, no doubt the result of the enumeration-atbirth policy. The problems with the oldest group of recipientsare likely the result of the inability to capture race data forpersons receiving benefits in 1979, as described earlier. It is notimmediately clear whether the 15 percent of missing codesrepresents persons who did not answer the question on race/ethnicity, or if the record exists but has not found its way to theSSR.The other big problem with the SSR is that it mixes the twoage/ethnicity coding schemes and provides no applicationdates so that they can be separated. The old White, Black, andOther codes issued before 1980 are thrown together with thenewer White, Black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific lslander, andAmerican Indian or Alaskan Native codes obtained since thattime)The newer scheme may not easily collapse into the olderTable 1.--Race codes for SSI recipients on the SSR, by age group, November 1998Age groupRace codeTotal insample I Under 99-1718-2930-3940-4950-64 ]l65-74 75 or olderTotal.Total with 0Total percent.White .Black .Hispanic.Asian .Other .American 5.7100.052.224.16.68.48.5.2Total percent icable.Note: Totalsmaynotadd to 100dueto rounding.Social Security Bulletin Vol. 62 No. 4 199911

scheme. Presumablypersons who consider themselves to bewhite or black would choose these categories for either codingscheme,but even that assumptioncan be challengedas theirNumident to select the first old code and the first new code foreach person.We found that for the 65,890samplerecipients,there wereperceptionsof their race/ethnicitychange over time. SSA hasoccasionallypublished race/ethnicdata in the past based oncollapsing these two coding schemes.Typically, Hispanic,167,393 Numident entries or about 2.5 entries for each recipient.Women tend to have more entries than men because of surnamechanges due to marriage. Table 2 shows the result of that match.Asian, and American Indian codes have been converted to"Other" in the older scheme. But little empirical work has beendone to est iblish this connection,and even after making thatleap of faith, the policymakeris still left with the old scheme andits lack of detail,Overall, nearly 92 percent of the 65,890 recipients had a newscheme or old scheme race/ethnicitycode, an improvementoverthe 85 percent found on the SSR. In total, the percentage ofcases with old and new codes was nearly identical--about64percent for each group had a legitimate code. By age group,however, the differences between old and new codes areMaking Betterthe Numidentconsiderable.For those with the new code, the percentageislow for the under-9 category and, because of enumeration-at-Use of Existingand the MEFCodes:birth, peaks at 95 percent for the 9-17 year group, andsteadily as recipients get older, reaching 39 percent in75 or older group. There is nothing terribly surprisingthis. Generally, you would expect younger persons tonewer race code.This article explores the possibility that sufficient codesmight exist already in the SSA computer system to supportbetter descriptive statistics for either of the two codingschemes. Since the two sources for original codes are theNumident and Master Earningsto begin the search,files, these are the logicalplacesGoing Backdeclinesthe ageabouthave theFor the old codes, only half of the persons in the 18-29 yeargroup have such a code, and, of course, none of those underage 18 have an old code, since they were born after the newto the NumidentBecause the race code on the SSR is not updated with newNumident entries, it was likely that additional SS-5s on thecode was implementedin 1980. The old code is strongest in the40-49 age group and declines with age to 57 percent in the 75 orolder group.Numident would contain codes where the SSR has none,new codes where the SSR has old ones. Also, the datesrace codes on the Numident could permit us to separatecodes from the new codes. The SSI sample was matchedTheracialwhitesblacksTable 2.--Racecodes for SSI recipientsRace codeTotal insamp eTotal .andfor thethe oldto thefrom the Numident,results from the Numident also gave us a first look at thedistributionsfor each code. If the old code is used,make up 63 percent of the recipient population,withat 30.9 and other at 6.0. If the newer code is used, whitesby code schemeand age group, November1998Under 99-1718-29Age group30-3940-4950-6465-7475 or 8100.063.029.47.75,580100.062.627.210.2Total with code .Total percent .White .Black .Hispanic .Asian .American Indian .41,848100.045.631.914.27. I1.2!,988100.033.643. !20.11.81.55,231100.041.344.8I 1.41.3I. I5,597100.055.432.78.72.5.85,817100.054.632.69. 032.720.623.322.5.9Percent with either code .Percent with old code .Percent with new code 1.775. i97.689.868.296.484.658.694. I70.055.479.757.339.3Old scheme:Total with code .Total percent .White .Black .Other .New scheme:iNot applicable.Note: Totals may not add to 100 due to rounding.12Social Security Bulletin Vol. 62 No. 4 1999

make up only 45.6 percent of the population, blacks have 31.9percent, Hispanics have 14.2 percent, Asians have 7.1 percentand Native Americans are at 1.2 percent. These differencesoccur primarily because of the different age distributions ofpersons with new and old codes,If statistics are to be published from the two codingschemes, it is important to obtain high completion percentagesfor each scheme. The 64 percent figures for the two codingschemes were less than exciting results, but were at least a startin the search for more accurate and complete data. Thechallenge was to fill in some of the missing pieces. Of coursewe realized the unlikelihood of finding new codes for many ofthe older recipients and the impossibility of getting old codesfor the youngest recipients. But we hoped to increase ourpercentages for both young and old recipients, so that it mightNot surprisingly, the children born before the policy wasimplemented in 1989 showed much higher rates for new racecodes. The pre-1989 birth cohorts began with well over half ofthe cases having new codes in the first year, and over 90percent with codes by age 5. The year 1989 appears to havebeen a year of transition to the new method of enumeration.After 1989, only about one-third of the cases had a code in thefirst year. By age 5, a little more than half of the children hadpicked up a code. It is quite possible that even with thelimitations imposed by the enumeration-at-birth policy, themajority of recipients would have code by age 18. Moreover,the need to show a Social Security card for working purposes,or name changes due to marriages, might produce an upsurge inrates of coding in the late teen years.at least be possible to show some statistics for each group.Looking for BetterCodes on the MEFProblemsWith Codes forEnumerationat BirthYoung Recipients--As mentioned earlier, the policy of enumeration at birthcreates a problem in obtaining codes for younger recipients.Since the policy has been in effect since 1989, we created aseparate analytical category for this age group so that we coulds

All was not lost, however, because SSA had also developed ethnic data at the point of birth, and receipt of these data is a computer file for the purpose of recording earnings data. This limited to additional applications filed in the ensuing years. 10 Social Security Bulletin Vol,62 No. 4 -1999

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