U.S. Department of Commerce

Census of Governments

Skip top of page navigation
You are here:  Census.govBusiness & Industry Federal, State, & Local Governments Census of Governments › About the Data
Skip top of page navigation

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. 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 are obtained about how governments are organized, how many people they employ and payroll amounts, and the finances of governments.

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." In previous years, government organization data and information were for October of the year preceding the Census. For 2012, the final government organization data and information are for June of 2012.


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:

  • Counts of governments obtained from the Government Units Survey and research.
  • 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 -- the Governments Master Address File (GMAF).

Government Employment & Payroll includes the number of full-time and part-time employees and payroll amounts for the following levels of government:

  • federal (civilian only)
  • state government only
  • state and local combined as aggregates
  • local governments (both as state-area or county-area aggregates and as individual governments)

Government Finance includes:

  • State government finance (that is, for the state government only)
  • State tax collections (as distinct from expenditures, debts, assets, and revenues other than taxes)
  • Public employee-retirement systems
  • Public elementary-secondary education finance
  • State and local government finance

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 | Census of Governments | 1(800) 242-2184| govs.cms.inquiry@census.gov |  Last Revised: September 20, 2013