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Measuring Our Economy—200 Years and Still Counting

Wed Mar 26 2014
John H. Thompson
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More than 200 years ago, we began collecting information about America’s economy, providing the first foundation for the detailed portrait we have today.

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Today, we continue this long tradition by releasing the first results from the 2012 Economic Census. A precursor to the modern-day Economic Census was initiated for the 1810 Census when Congress approved a bill requiring the collection of information on manufacturing establishments.

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Since before the first population Census in 1790, James Madison proposed asking about agricultural, commercial and manufacturing data, saying “If the plan was pursued in taking every future census, it would give them an opportunity of marking the progress of the society, and distinguishing the growth of every interest.”

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Taken every five years, the Economic Census provides statistics that are the cornerstone of measuring the U.S. economy, covering more than 1,000 industries. The Economic Census gives us a detailed measure of America’s businesses and economy, producing nearly all of the key source data use to calculate GDP. These results provide the first comprehensive look at the economy since the recession.

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For the business owners that provided this information to us, we offer a sincere thank you for helping us to measure the health of America’s economy through consistent, comparable and comprehensive statistics.

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The first preliminary results reveal, for example, the extraordinary growth of the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector: the number of establishments in this sector rose by 26.2 percent between 2007 and 2012. This growth has also been reflected repeatedly in our population estimates in recent years, showing rapid growth in places like North Dakota and Texas, which are rich in these resources.

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We also see trends in other economic sectors. Health care remains a topic of conversation in the U.S. and the Economic Census findings show the increasing size and scope of this sector. It continued to have the most employees and the highest numerical increase compared to other sectors, up almost 1.8 million in employees from 2007. In 2012, more than 18 million people worked in the health care and social assistance sector with the largest component of that change being ambulatory health care services which includes doctors’ offices.

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In addition, the retail trade sector had the most business locations in 2012 (nearly 1.1 million) while the utilities sector had the least (17,804). However, utilities reported the highest annual payroll per employee ($89,470).

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When we look at sales, we see the wholesale trade sector reported the highest sales in 2012 (nearly $7.2 trillion) followed by manufacturing (over $5.7 trillion) and retail trade ($4.2 trillion).

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The information released today is only a preview of what is to be published over the coming months. More detailed statistics from the Economic Census ─ for states, counties, and cities, and with greater industry detail ─ will tell an ongoing story about America’s economy. Ultimately, every state and community will have an economic profile to assist economic development, planners, businesses and entrepreneurs in creating new opportunities and jobs across the nation.

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The economic census provides consistent benchmark data but it also evolves to reflect the emergence of new industries. To that end, for the 2012 Economic Census, for the first time, we will publish statistics on new industries such as the electric power generation industry for solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Stay tuned as we continue to tell the story of America’s economy through the 2012 Economic Census results.

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