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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Economic Census

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Economic Census

1. What is the Economic Census?

Every five years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts the Economic Census, the official measure of the Nation’s businesses and economy.  Businesses, policymakers, governments and communities use Economic Census data for economic development, business decisions, and strategic planning.  The Economic Census serves as the statistical benchmark for current economic activity such as the Gross Domestic Product and the Producer Price Index.  It provides information on business locations, the workforce, and trillions of dollars of sales by product and service type.  Comprehensive information is generated for almost one thousand different industries and thousands of geographic areas.    

The next Economic Census will gather 2017 year-end figures from approximately four million business locations.  The data collection for the 2017 Economic Census will occur in 2018.  Businesses included in the 2017 Economic Census, which includes U.S. territories, are required by law under Title 13, Section 224, to respond.  Starting with this Census, respondents will use an online, secure portal to respond, making filing easier while at the same time improving data quality and reducing costs.  The business community’s participation is essential to obtain reliable, comprehensive results that accurately represent our rapidly changing economy. 

2. Is the Economic Census legitimate?

The 2017 Economic Census is a legitimate survey of the U.S. Census Bureau.  The Economic Census is conducted every five years collecting data for years ending in “2” and “7”.  Information about the 2017 Economic Census can be found at

Below are a few common items you can use to verify the legitimacy of this survey:

  1. Ensure the Web address provided in the letter or email is a "" domain.
  2. Correspondence will contain reporting instructions and a toll-free number for survey assistance.
  3. On the log-in screen, a warning message should be present stating the respondent is accessing a U.S. Government computer.
  4. After clicking on the “Report Now” button in the Respondent Portal, the OMB Number and OMB Approval Expiration information will appear in the upper right of the first screen of the electronic reporting instrument.  The bottom of the screen should have a link for the “Burden Statement” which also contains the OMB eight-digit number.

3. How do I start reporting for the Economic Census?

For information on how to complete your survey, go to Information for Respondents and review the section, "Ready to Report or Need Assistance?" or go directly to  How Do I Get Started .

4. Why would a business not receive a form?

To reduce the burden on American businesses, the Census Bureau does not send Economic Census surveys to most very small firms. At companies with more than one location, surveys are sent to the company headquarters or other company appointed contact(s); so most staff never receives a census survey.

A few industries are not covered by the Economic Census - See Codes Not Covered.

5. Must businesses report electronically?

Yes! Businesses will report directly through an online survey. Businesses with more than one location have the option to download spreadsheets, upload the spreadsheet files, and submit data to the Census Bureau.

6. Why do businesses have to report electronically?

Online filing makes responding to the 2017 Economic Census easier than ever.  Filing online also puts assistance just a click away, permits businesses to delegate reporting to either their accountant or someone else within the company, and permits the Census Bureau to process the reported data faster and more efficiently. 

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

Yes!  Title 13, United States Code, Section 9, requires the Census Bureau to keep your information CONFIDENTIAL and can use your responses only to produce statistics.  

The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in a way that could identify your business, organization, or institution. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, your data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit your data.

8. 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.

9. 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.

The Economic Census is also used to update the Census Bureau’s master list of businesses.  Without the Economic Census, the Census Bureau would miss vital information about changes in the ownership and organizational structure of American businesses and industries. 

10. How can the Economic Census help businesses and local communities?

The Economic Census helps every American.  Businesses use Census data to make decisions about where to locate, how much to produce, and to compare their performance to other businesses in their industry or community.  Local communities use Economic Census results to attract new businesses, assess the economic health of their localities, understand the characteristics of their business base, and compare their community to other geographical areas.  Individuals can use census results to identify emerging job markets and growing industries.  Click on the following link (Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition) to see how Census economic data can profile businesses and their customers for various localities.

See Uses of Data.

11. What is the reference period for the 2017 Economic Census?

The 2017 Economic Census online surveys request data for calendar year 2017.  If your fiscal year covers at least 10 months of calendar year 2017, a business location can report all data items except payroll on a fiscal year basis, but include the exact dates covered by the survey in the submission certification.  Payroll must be reported on a calendar year basis and should be available from the businesses’ IRS Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, or on IRS Form 944, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return.

12. Why do small businesses have to complete the Economic Census?

Relatively few small businesses are sampled for inclusion in the 2017 Economic Census.  But those small businesses that are sampled, represent other similar size businesses.  Obtaining timely, complete responses from sampled small businesses ensures results are representative and reflect the diversity and dynamic nature of small businesses.

13. Can a business be excused from participating in the 2017 Economic Census?

No.  The Congress has deemed the Economic Census so important that any business included in the Economic Census is required by law (Title 13, USC, Section 224) to complete and file their appropriate online survey or surveys.

14. What has the Census Bureau done to lower the cost of the 2017 Economic Census?

The Census Bureau has found ways to be more efficient and responsive including:

  • All businesses must file online using new improved software
  • Respondent portal provides new capabilities to make filing easier and less burdensome
  • Account Managers will assist large companies
  • Respondent advocate is available to assist businesses
  • Administrative records data will be used in lieu of direct reporting for more small businesses than ever before
  • Collection strategy is structured to better target and prioritize nonresponse follow-ups
  • Key standardized processing systems are in place and have been extensively tested.

15. What's new about the 2017 Economic Census?

  • Electronic Reporting. A new electronic instrument allows for online reporting for both small and large companies, with spreadsheet reporting capabilities for large companies.  The Respondent Portal provides new capabilities to make filing easier and less burdensome.
  • New statistics. The introduction of the North American Product Classification System (NAPCS) allows the 2017 Economic Census to collect more detailed and useful information on products and services than ever before. 
  • Content updated. Other changes, such as modifications to industry categories and industry specific content, have been updated to better reflect the changing economy.

16. 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

17. 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.

18. When will people see the results of the 2017 Economic Census?

The first census results will be available in September 2019 when the "First Look Report" provides preliminary totals for all economic sectors. See 2017 Release Schedules for details on additional data to be published over the next few years.


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