Barry Hirsch

Trouble in the tails? What we know about earnings nonresponse 30 years after Lillard, Smith, and Welch

Earnings nonresponse in household surveys is widespread, yet there is limited evidence on whether and how nonresponse bias affects measured earnings. This paper examines the patterns and consequences of nonresponse using internal Current Population Survey individual records linked to administrative Social Security Administrative data on earnings for calendar years 2005-2010. Our findings confirm the conjecture by Lillard, Smith, and Welch (1986) that nonresponse across the earnings distribution is U-shaped. Left-tail “strugglers” and right-tail “stars” are least likely to report earnings.

Is earnings non-response ignorable?

Earnings nonresponse in the Current Population Survey is roughly 30% in the monthly surveys and 20% in the March survey. If nonresponse is ignorable, unbiased estimates can be achieved by omitting nonrespondents. Little is known about whether CPS nonresponse is ignorable. Using sample frame measures to identify selection, we find clear-cut evidence among men but limited evidence among women for negative selection into response.