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Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE)

While many people are familiar with the United States Census, which is taken every 10 years as mandated by the Constitution, there are actually over 100 different surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau each year. In this educational series, SBB Research Group summarizes key information from about these lesser-known—but highly important—survey.

What is the Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) Program?

The Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) program is a national household survey program conducted by the United States Census Bureau (USCB) for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The purpose of these surveys is to find out how Americans spend money.

The CE program provides comprehensive information on consumer expenditures and incomes, and the program has two parts — the Quarterly Interview Survey and the Diary Survey.

  • For the Quarterly Interview Survey, each participating household is interviewed once per quarter for a year. This survey captures information about large purchases.

  • The Diary Survey is self-administered and requires each participating household to keep a diary for two one-week periods. This survey captures data about small, frequently purchased items.

How CE Data is Used

The data collected by the CE program is primarily used to update the inputs for the Consumer Price Index, an important measure of inflation based on prices of typical consumer purchases.

Survey Eligibility

Households are chosen to participate in the CE program from the Census Bureau’s Master Address File. The selection process is designed to capture a representative sample of the entire country, including rural and urban populations.

General Topics in the Survey

The Interview Survey and the Diary Survey each focus on slightly different topics.

Using computer-assisted personal interviewing techniques, the Interview Survey attempts to ascertain large or recurring expenditures, such as spending on rent, property, and vehicles.

Participants in the Diary Survey are asked to record much smaller, frequent purchases, such as spending on food and beverages, tobacco, personal care products, and nonprescription drugs and supplies.

Privacy of Information Collected

The U.S. Census Bureau must keep all information collected in the CE program strictly confidential (Title 13 of the U.S. Code, Section 9). The information gathered can only be used for statistical purposes and released to the public in a statistical format only. No personally identifiable information (e.g., name, address, and phone number) is released.


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