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Business Expenses Survey

What is the Business Expenses Program?

The Business Expenses Survey (BES) was created originally to compile statistics on business operating expenses for Retail Trade, Wholesale Trade, and Service Industries. Expense data are key components of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) input-output (I-O) accounts, which are a critical element in the calculation of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Prior to 2003, the BES was conducted quinquenially by a dedicated staff within the Census Bureau. Starting in 2003, the Service Annual Survey (SAS) began collecting selected expense items on their annual form. In 2004, Census and BEA formed a joint team, called the Core Expenses Group (CEG) to evaluate the collection of expense items across the many Census programs. The result of this team effort was a core set of expenses that have been collected on an annual basis since 2005 by the SAS and the Annual Survey of Manufacturers (ASM), and on a quinquennial basis by the Annual Retail Trade Survey (ARTS), Annual Wholesale Trade Survey (AWTS), and the Economic Census for Manufacturing, Construction, and Mining.

What data is available and where?

Expense data for all sectors except Agriculture and Public Administration are available across four separate annual surveys and the quinquennial economic census. The economic census occurs in years ending in 2 and 7. Because the Annual Survey of Manufactures is not conducted in census years, expense data for manufacturing is included in the economic census. Additionally detailed expense data is available for all covered sectors. Detailed expense data is compiled on a yearly basis for SAS while all other censuses and surveys compile data on a five year basis. To learn more about each survey, including sector coverage. A break out of what's covered where can be found below.


To compile statistics on business operating expenses. The United States Code, Title 13, authorizes this program as part of the Economic Census.


Currently, the Business Expenses Supplement (BES) covers the following:

  • Wholesale Distributors (North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 42, part)
  • Retail Trade (NAICS 44-45)
  • Merchant Wholesale excluding Manufacturers’ Sales Branches and Offices

Previously covered by the predecessor Business Expenses Survey, expenses data coverage of most industries in the service sector as of 2005 is part of the Service Annual Survey. Expenses data for manufacturing, mining, and construction sectors are covered in respective parts of the Economic Census


All sampled businesses in the BES are asked to provide data on total and detailed operating expenses for the year covered.


Every five years coinciding with the collection of the Economic Census (generally years ending in "2" and "7"). Data collection begins in January following the census year. Reported data are requested for the calendar year. A new sample of businesses is introduced every five years.


Data for the BES are collected as a supplement to the Annual Surveys of Retail Trade (including Accommodation and Food Services), and Wholesale Trade. These mail-out/mail-back surveys cover about 29,000 retail, accommodation and food services, and merchant wholesale businesses with paid employees.

Products and Release Dates

Tabulation of detailed expenses

  • July 2009 - Preliminary data
  • First Quarter 2010 - Revised preliminary data
  • First Quarter 2011 - Final data benchmarked to the 2007 Economic Census

Summary tables with detailed business expenses data will be released on the Internet in conjunction with the release of sales, purchases, and inventories data in the 2007 from the 2007 Annual Surveys of Retail Trade, Accommodations and Food Services, and Wholesale Trade. Data are published by NAICS at the national level only.


Business expenses data are used routinely by government program officials, particularly the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis which uses the data for the Nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) estimates and in developing the National Accounts input-output tables. Other users of business expenses data include market researchers, economic analysts, academics and business owners.

Special Features

The BES provides the only reliable National data on detailed business expenses by kind of business for covered industries.

Page Last Revised - April 21, 2022
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