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The Center for Economic Studies (CES) partners with stakeholders within and outside the Census Bureau to improve measures of the economy and people of the United States through research and the development of innovative data products.

Research

CES research staff use confidential microdata from Census Bureau censuses and surveys of business and households, linked employer-employee data, and administrative records from federal and state agencies to carry out empirical research that leads to:

  • Discoveries in economics and other social sciences not possible using publicly available data.
  • Improvements in existing Census Bureau surveys and data products.
  • Enhancements to research microdata for future researchers.
  • New statistics and information products for public use.

Research findings are disseminated through publications, CES discussion papers, conferences, seminars, workshops, and our annual report.

Products

CES uses microdata from existing censuses and surveys, and from administrative sources, to create innovative public-use data products, including:

History

CES was established in 1982 to house databases on businesses, bring them together, longitudinally link them, conduct research with them, and make them available to researchers.

In his 1991 Nobel Prize Lecture, economist Ronald Coase noted that “we can also hope to learn much more in the future from the studies of the activities of firms which have recently been initiated by the Center for Economic Studies of the Bureau of the Census of the United States."

Elaborating on these thoughts in a letter sent to the CES following a visit there in June 1993, Coase states:  

It must be a matter of pride for all in the Bureau of the Census to have a unit which, through its research activities, is playing such a valuable role in increasing our understanding of the working of our economic system. Of course, no individual or institution can do everything. The Center will have to depend on research conducted elsewhere (particularly in universities) … to develop a more complete and more accurate picture of the structure of the economy. For this reason I greatly welcome the initiative of the Bureau of the Census in establishing an office of the Center in Boston … and I hope, after assessing your experience in Boston, that it will be found desirable to establish similar offices in other places.

Indeed, CES opened the first Research Data Center in Boston in 1994 and continued to grow the network over the next quarter century. Today, there are Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDCs) located at dozens of universities and research organizations all across the country. In addition to restricted-use data on businesses and households from the Census Bureau, the FSRDCs now also provide secure access to restricted-use data from other federal statistical agencies. As of 2018, the FSRDCs are administered by the newly established Center for Enterprise Dissemination (CED).

With time, CES’ focus evolved from a near-exclusive focus on the manufacturing sector to include nonmanufacturing sectors and data on workers and households. In 2008, the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program joined CES from the Census Bureau’s Demographic Directorate, and in 2018, researchers from the former Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications (CARRA) joined CES.

Today, CES is comprised of several dozen researchers, with doctorates in economics, sociology, demography, public policy, statistics, and history, and with research that is even more diverse.

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