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Quarterly Services Survey FAQs

Why is the Quarterly Services Survey (QSS) conducted?

The Quarterly Services Survey was established in 2004. Previously, the Census Bureau had conducted 12 indicator surveys, including monthly series covering retail and wholesale trade; manufacturers’ shipments, inventories and orders; residential construction; and merchandise trade; and a quarterly series on corporate profits. These indicator series track current economic activity, and are closely followed and widely used by policy makers in the public and private sectors.

Until the QSS, no economic indicator had existed for the services sector despite its importance and increasing share of total economic activity. Excluding retail and wholesale trade, nearly 55 percent of all economic activity is accounted for by services. Measures of service industry output previously were available only from the five-year economic census and on an annual basis from the Service Annual Survey (SAS).

Reliable measures of current economic activity are essential to an objective assessment of the need for, and impact of, a wide range of public policy decisions. These more up-to-date estimates of service industry output will improve those measures.

How are the QSS data used?

The QSS is used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis to significantly improve their quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) and GDP by industry estimates. It also provides the Federal Reserve Board and Council of Economic Advisors with timely information to assess current economic performance. Other government and private stakeholders benefit from a better understanding of important cyclical components of our economy.

What are economic indicators?

Economic indicators are statistical figures, which are used to track the growth and decline of activity in specific segments of the economy over time. Additional economic indicators produced in other areas at the Census Bureau include Manufacturers' Shipments, Inventories, and Orders; U.S. International Trade; Labor Force; Income; Poverty; Government Budget and Debt; Plant and Equipment Expenditures; and Retail Sales.

What services are covered in the QSS?

Currently the Quarterly Services Survey covers the following NAICS sectors (2-digit) and subsectors (3-digit):

  • Utilities (Sector 22)
  • Transportation & Warehousing (Sectors 48 and 49)
  • Information (Sector 51)
  • Finance and Insurance (Sector 52)
  • Real Estate and Rental and Leasing (Sector 53)
  • Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (Sector 54)
  • Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services (Sector 56)
  • Educational Services (Sector 61)
  • Health Care and Social Assistance (Sector 62)
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (Sector 71)
  • Accommodation (Subsector 721)
  • Other Services (Sector 81)

These sectors are designated by NAICS.

What is the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)?

NAICS is used to classify a business’ primary activity. It replaced SIC (Standard Industrial Classification). For further information regarding NAICS, you can access the following website: NAICS

What data are produced for these industries?

The QSS produces quarterly estimates of total operating revenue and the percentage of revenue by class of customer. In addition, the QSS provides estimates of total operating expenses from tax-exempt firms in industries that have a large not-for-profit component, and inpatient days and discharges in Hospitals and also provides admissions revenue for Performing Arts and Spectator Sports.

What is sampling variability and how do I interpret it?

Because estimates are based on a sample rather than the entire population, the published estimates may differ from the actual, but unknown, population values. In principle, many random samples could be drawn and each would give a different result. This is because each sample would be made up of different businesses who would give different answers to the questions asked. The spread of these results is the sampling variability.

Common measures of the variability among these estimates are the sampling variance, the standard error, and the coefficient of variation (CV). The sampling variance is defined as the squared difference, averaged over all possible samples of the same size and design, between the estimator and its average value. The standard error is the square root of the sampling variance. The CV expresses the standard error as a percentage of the estimate to which it refers. For example, an estimate of 200 units that has an estimated standard error of 10 units has an estimated CV of 5 percent. The CV has the advantage of being a relative, rather than an absolute, measure and can be used to compare the reliability of one estimate to another.

What steps does the Census Bureau undertake to ensure that confidential data are secure?

The Census Bureau takes its commitment to confidentiality very seriously.  It constantly pursues new procedures, technologies, and methodologies to safeguard individual data. Every person with access to person or business data – from the Director on down – is sworn by Title 13 to protect confidentiality and is subject to criminal penalties if they do not. Tight computer security and strict access and handling procedures are followed. 

When will the estimates from the survey be released?

Data from the Quarterly Services Survey are released approximately 75 days after the end of the calendar quarter. Upcoming release dates are available on the Services main page.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Services | (888) 211-5946 |  Last Revised: March 11, 2015