U.S. Department of Commerce

Economic Census


business.census.gov

FAQs

In November 2012, most employer businesses across the nation will receive 2012 Economic Census forms. The forms are due February 12, 2013.

  1. What is the Economic Census?
  2. Why does the government take the Economic Census?
  3. Who will receive an Economic Census form?
  4. Why would a business not receive a form?
  5. Can businesses report electronically?
  6. Are business responses to the Economic Census kept confidential?
  7. What is the penalty for not responding?
  8. Why do we need an Economic Census when surveys provide more timely figures?
  9. What's new about the 2012 Economic Census?
  10. What kind of data does the Economic Census collect?
  11. What happens to the data?
  12. When will people see the results of the 2012 Economic Census?
  13. How can businesses use Economic Census results?

1. What is the Economic Census?

The Economic Census is the U.S. Government's official five-year measure of American business and the economy. It is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for years ending in '2' and '7'. The Economic Census is the most comprehensive source of information about American businesses from the national to the local level. Published statistics cover more than 1,000 industries, 15,000 products, every state, over 3,000 counties, 15,000 cities and towns, and Puerto Rico and other U.S. Island Areas.

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2. Why does the government take the Economic Census?

Good public policy depends on accurate information. The Economic Census provides official measures of output for industries and geographic areas, and serves as the cornerstone of the nation's economic statistics, providing key source data for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other indicators of economic performance.

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3. Who will receive an Economic Census form?

More than 4 million businesses with paid employees will receive census forms, most in the middle of December 2012.

Economic Census forms are sent to all but the smallest businesses in nearly every industry in the private, non-farm economy, and every geographic area of the U.S., Puerto Rico, and other U.S. Island Areas. Although the precise cutoff varies from industry to industry, most businesses with four or more paid employees, and a sample of smaller ones, will receive a census form.

4. Why would a business not receive a form?

To reduce the burden on American businesses, the Census Bureau does not send Economic Census forms to most very small firms. At companies with more than one location, all forms are sent to the company headquarters; so most staff never receives a census form.

A few industries are not covered by the Economic Census - see Codes Not Covered in the 2007 Economic Census User Guide.

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5. Can businesses report electronically?

Yes! Businesses with only one location will be able to report directly through an online questionnaire. Businesses with more than one location can download special software with a spreadsheet-style look and feel, and return their data by uploading a file to a secure Census Bureau web site.

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6. Are business responses to the Economic Census kept confidential?

Yes! Business answers are protected by federal law, Title 13, United States Code, under penalty of fines or imprisonment for those who misuse the data. Individual responses are seen only by persons sworn to uphold the confidentiality of Census Bureau information and may be used only for statistical purposes. Individual responses are added together to produce summary statistics which do not divulge data about individual companies. Confidential information on census forms is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. No business competitor can obtain the responses of another company, and even copies retained in respondents' files are immune from legal process.

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7. What is the penalty for not responding?

The census law (Title 13, United States Code, Section 224), coupled with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (Title 18, Sections 3551, 3559, and 3571), provides for penalties of up to $5,000 for failure to report, and $10,000 for intentionally providing false information.

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8. Why do we need an Economic Census when surveys provide more timely figures?

The Economic Census provides comprehensive details about the United States economy, from the National to the local level. Surveys, like Monthly Retail Sales, provide timely information, but only for particular industries or sectors. Since surveys are based on samples that include only a small fraction of all businesses, they cannot supply the geographic and industry details that are unique to the census.

Economic Census statistics about industries, their inputs and outputs, and how they relate to each other, are available nowhere else. Census totals also serve as benchmarks to keep our surveys accurate.

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9. What's new about the 2012 Economic Census?

  • Electronic Reporting. All single location businesses will be now have the option to report directly online. Businesses with more than one location will still download software with a spreadsheet interface to facilitate preparation of responses.
  • New statistics. New statistics are introduced to profile key company-wide characteristics of U.S. enterprises, such as innovation and globalization.
  • Classification updated. Other changes, such as the introduction of new industry categories for solar, wind, and geothermal electric power generation, the consolidation of selected other industries, and changes to product classifications within some industries are discussed in New for 2012.

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10. What kind of data does the Economic Census collect?

The Economic Census collects information from individual business establishments on physical location, type of business activity (industry), employment, payroll, and revenue by type of service or product. Some inquiries apply to some industries but not others, such as materials consumed and franchising.

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11. What happens to the data?

The Economic Census serves as the cornerstone of the nation's economic statistics, providing key source data for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other indicators of economic performance. Statistics from the Economic Census are also used by trade associations, business organizations, economic development agencies, and individual businesses to assess and improve business performance. See Using Data and Industry & Local Business Snapshots for examples of the kinds of statistics available.

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12. When will people see the results of the 2012 Economic Census?

The first census results will be available in December 2013 when the "Advance Report" provides preliminary totals for all economic sectors. Additional results will be published over the next few years.

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13. How can businesses use Economic Census results?

See Using Data.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Economic Planning and Coordination Division | 1-877-790-1876 | Last Revised: September 21, 2012