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Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE)

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The Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) program provides data on expenditures, income, and demographic characteristics of consumers in the United States.

If you have been asked to participate in either the Consumer Expenditure Quarterly Interview Survey (Quarterly Interview) or the Consumer Expenditure Diary Survey (Diary), this site will help you verify that the survey came from the Census Bureau, verify that the person who called or came to your door is a Census Bureau employee, and inform you of how we protect your data.

If you have additional concerns and wish to contact Census Bureau staff regarding the survey, please see the contact information at the bottom of this page.

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Overview

The Consumer Expenditure Survey is a national survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The survey collects the data needed for the calculation of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), our nation’s most important measure of inflation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been conducting this survey since 1980.

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There are two separate surveys in the Consumer Expenditure Survey: the Quarterly Interview survey and the Diary survey.

  • The Quarterly Interview survey asks household respondents questions about the costs of large purchases like cars or appliances and regular expenditures like rent, mortgage, insurance, or utilities.
  • The Diary survey asks household respondents to keep two 1-week diaries for recording all purchases. The purpose of the Diary survey is to capture small everyday purchases like food, meals, personal care products and gasoline.

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Why is this survey important?

  • This survey measures how people in the United States spend their money on items such as housing, food, education, transportation, and health care. It is necessary to collect this type of information to examine what people are buying and how much they are spending on these products. Participation is essential in order for the survey to provide a complete and accurate picture of how Americans spend their money. Knowing what goods and services consumers are buying and how much they are spending is critical information in determining the strength of our nation’s economy and the direction in which it is moving.
  • Data from this survey is used in the calculation of the CPI, which measures inflation; that is, increases in costs for products or services. Our ability to quantify inflation allows both government and business sectors to make informed economic decisions that directly affect our nation’s citizens.
  • The CPI is used to provide cost-of-living adjustments to millions of American workers and retirees. The CPI is used to adjust income eligibility levels for government programs and government assistance.
  • People in your community and throughout the country use the information provided in this survey for planning public services and addressing consumer needs.

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What is the legal authority for conducting this survey?

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts this survey under the authority of Title 13, United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 8. Section 9 of this law requires the Census Bureau to keep all information about you and your household strictly confidential. We may use this information only for statistical purposes.

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How was I selected to be in this survey?

We selected your address and not you personally. The Census Bureau scientifically selects random addresses throughout the country to be in this survey. Your address represents thousands of other households in your region.

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What should you expect if your address was randomly selected to be in the survey?

  • A household selected for either the Quarterly Interview survey or the Diary survey will first receive a letter from the Director of the Census Bureau notifying you that your address has been selected. The letter provides information about the survey and informs you that a representative from the Census Bureau will be contacting you in the near future.
  • If selected, you will have been selected to participate in either the Quarterly Interview Survey or the Diary Survey, not both.
  • Census Bureau Field staff will conduct the interview with you at a time of your convenience. Our staff have flexible hours and will be glad to accommodate your schedule. If you work, we will conduct the interview after business hours or on the weekend. If daytime is preferable, we can accommodate that time as well.
  • The Quarterly Interview survey consists of four in person interviews. Each interview will take place every three months throughout the year. Each survey interview averages about an hour, but the actual time will vary depending on your household characteristics. During this interview, we will ask you a series of questions about purchases that you and other people in your household have made and bills you have paid in the past 3 months. We prefer to conduct all interviews in person, but if requested, interviews can be administered over the telephone.
  • The Diary survey consists of two short in person interviews about 2-weeks a part. For the 2-week period in between, we will ask you to record all the purchases you make in diaries that we provide during the initial interview. We will want to know about your purchases and the purchases of everyone who lives in your household. In the second interview, we will review and collect the diaries from you.

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How can I verify that my address was selected for this survey?

If you wish to verify that your address was selected for this survey, you can contact your Census Bureau Regional Office and they can verify for you whether your address was selected for a particular survey (see the map for contact information).

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How can I verify that the person contacting me is a Census Bureau employee?

  • All Census Bureau employees identify themselves by name and will show you their credentials. They will be carrying a laptop with the Census logo on it to conduct the survey.
  • If you receive a call and wish to verify that the caller is a Census Bureau employee, you can call one of our regional offices or you can use the staff search on our website.

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What if we have minimal expenses?

The Census Bureau depends on your responses in order to produce quality statistics - even if your household has limited or minimal expenses.

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Is participation mandatory?

Participation in the Consumer Expenditure Survey is voluntary. However, when you participate, you are representing thousands of other households like yours. In order to be able to create quality statistics, we rely on the participation of those who are randomly selected. If you choose not to participate, your household and others like it will not be adequately represented.

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Can I be identified by my responses?

The responses you provide for this survey are confidential. They are used to produce statistical summaries. No information about your household or you as an individual can be identified through these statistics. The law completely protects your confidential answers from disclosure.

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How do I know my responses are safe?

The Census Bureau encrypts all of the answers you provide whether your information is in transit or at rest on the Census Bureau’s servers. These servers are part of a stand-alone network that is not accessible by the Internet. These servers are constantly monitored for any attempts at intrusion.

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Where can I find the statistics produced by this survey?

Additional information about the survey as well as reports and statistics based on the information we collect are found at the website.

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What if I have additional questions, recommendations, or issues that I need resolved?

If you have additional questions about the survey, or if you wish to speak to someone at the Census Bureau, you can contact the respondent advocate. The respondent advocate can address the concerns of those households that have been selected to participate in this survey, as well as share that feedback with those who manage the survey operations.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey website offers additional information for households selected to participate in the Quarterly Interview or Diary survey.

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The Census Bureau has a web page “Are You In A Survey” designed to answer additional questions you might have about being in a Census Bureau survey.

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