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About the Data

PURPOSE
The Census of Governments identifies the scope and nature of the nation's state and local government sector; provides authoritative benchmark figures of public finance and public employment; classifies local government organizations, powers, and activities; and measures federal, state, and local fiscal relationships.
The United States Code, Title 13, Section 161, requires that this census be taken.

COVERAGE
All state and local governments in the United States are covered in the Census of Governments. Local governments include:

  • counties
  • cities
  • townships
  • special districts (such as water districts, fire districts, library districts, mosquito abatement districts, and so on)
  • school districts

CONTENT
Data about the government’s organization, the number of employees of the government and their payroll amounts, and the finances of governments are collected in the Census.
Government organization data include location, type, and characteristics of local governments.
Finance and employment data are the same as in comparable annual surveys and include revenues, expenditures, debt, assets, number of employees (by full-time and part-time status), payroll, and benefits.

FREQUENCY
Every five years since 1957, for years ending in "2" and "7." Government organization data and information are for October of the year preceding the Census.  The data released in the preliminary counts are from the 2011 Government Units Survey.

PRODUCTS
Public releases in a Census year include electronic files and Internet tables. The data comprise three main topic areas:

  • Government Organization (lists and structure of governments)
  • Government Employment and Payroll
  • Government Finance

Government Organization includes:

  • preliminary counts of governments obtained from the Government Units Survey and released in August 2012
  • the number of governments by type and by state
  • descriptions of the responsibilities and authority of local governments in each state
  • a list of all local governments in the United States, with limited reference information, in an online query system -- Governments Master Address File (GMAF) query tool.

Both electronic files and Internet tables are available for each of the finance topics above; in addition, a published report, Public Education Finance, is available.

USES
Two federal statistical agencies–the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Reserve Board–use the data to measure the nation's economic and financial performance. State and local governments use the data to develop programs and budgets, assess financial conditions, and perform comparative analyses.
In addition, analysts, economists, market specialists, and researchers need these data to measure the changing characteristics of the government sector of the economy and to conduct public policy research. Journalists report on, and teachers and students learn about, their governments' activities using our data. Internally, the Census Bureau uses these data as a benchmark for all our non-census year samples.

SPECIAL FEATURES
The Census of Governments provides the only source of periodic information that identifies and describes all units of government in the U.S. The Census uses nationally consistent definitions and classifications for the types of governments and for their activities.

Additional information on our methodology - the population of interest, data collection, data processing, and data quality, are available at How the Data are Collected
Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Lists & Structure of Governments | 1 (800) 242-2184 | govs.org@census.gov |  Last Revised: September 04, 2012