U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

end of header


You are here: Census.govHistoryProgramsEconomic › Surveys used in Economic Indicators
Skip top of page navigation


Surveys used in Economic Indicators

In addition to the quinquennial Economic Census, the Census Bureau also conducts numerous economic surveys. These surveys provide vital information about the U.S. economy. Data from these surveys are used to compile such key economic indicators as retail sales, construction spending, and new home sales. The following surveys are are a few examples of those conducted by the Census Bureau:

Building Permits Survey

homes under construction

The U.S. Census Bureau has supplied monthly and annual data collected from the Building Permits Survey since 1959. Data from this survey are a designated principal economic indicator and the only source of current and are consistent small-area data on newly-authorized construction.

The Building Permits Survey is conducted via a mailout/mailback monthly survey of 9,000 selected permit-issuing places; and an annual mailout/mailback census of approximately 11,000 permit-issuing places that do not report monthly. Monthly estimates are made for all permit-issuing places nationwide.

In total, the survey covers more than 98 percent of privately-owned residential buildings constructed in the United States and includes data on the number and permit valuation of housing units authorized by type of structure. For residential additions, alterations, and renovations, data are collected on the number of permits issued and the total valuation.

Advance Monthly Retail Sales Survey

The Census Bureau has conducted the Advance Monthly Retail Sales Survey since 1953. The survey provides an early indication of sales by retail companies with one or more establishments that sell merchandise and associated services to final consumers.

Retail companies provide data on dollar value of sales, reporting periods, and number of retail establishments via a questionnaire mailed 5 working days before the end of the reporting month. (Responses are due 3 working days after the reporting month.)

Advance Monthly Retail Sales reports are released about 9 working days after the close of the reference month. These reports contain the advance estimates for the reporting month and preliminary sales data for the previous month by major kind-of-business group. Data presented are both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted.

Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey

The Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey has collected monthly estimates of sales and inventories data from companies primarily engaged in merchant wholesale trade since 1946.

Companies eligible to participate in the survey (merchant wholesalers that take title of the goods they sell, as well as jobbers, industrial distributors, exporters, and importers) provide data on dollar values of merchant wholesale sales, end-of-month inventories, and methods of inventory valuation via a questionnaire mailed to approximately 4,000 wholesale firms.

Monthly Wholesale Trade Sales and Inventories reports are released 6 weeks after the close of the reference month and contain both preliminary current month estimates and final data for the previous month. Statistics include sales and inventory/sales ratios by 4-digit NAICS code along with standard errors. Data are both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted.

In addition to monthly reports, the Census Bureau also publishes the Annual Benchmark Report for Wholesale Trade each spring. This report contains estimated annual sales, monthly and year-end inventories, inventory/sales ratios, purchases, gross margins, and gross margin/sales ratios by kind of business. Annual estimates are benchmarked to the most recent census of wholesale trade. It also presents the results of a benchmarking operation that revises monthly sales and inventories estimates. Estimates are both seasonally adjusted and unadjusted.

  Is this page helpful?
Thumbs Up Image Yes    Thumbs Down Image No
No, thanks
255 characters remaining
Thank you for your feedback.
Comments or suggestions?
Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 08, 2021