Understanding the Census
1. What is the Economic Census?
The Economic Census collects and produces our Nation's most comprehensive and useful business statistics. It collects information about virtually every U.S. business and summarizes data for each industry and geographic area to publish a complete and accurate portrait of the American economy. The Census Bureau conducts an Economic Census every five years.
- Virtually every business. The Economic Census includes nearly all U.S. business activities. The census excludes agriculture, government, most education, and some specialized activities (such as railroad, labor organizations and religious activities). The Economic Census also excludes private household activities.
- Comprehensive business statistics. Census statistics describe the structure and functioning of our Nation's economy, and illuminate hundreds of different industries and thousands of geographic areas. These data are relied on for sound business plans, effective economic development, and accurate economic indicator statistics.
- The 2012 Economic Census is currently underway; the most recent completed census provides information for calendar year 2007 at American Fact Finder.
back to faq
2. Why is this census important?
The Economic Census is important because it produces comprehensive "snapshots" of our economy and our most widely used business statistics. Census statistics feature economy-wide coverage, exceptional accuracy, encyclopedic detail, and historic comparability. These data are used in private sector business plans, public policy development, and statistical program quality control. Examples of data users and uses include:
- Individual businesses. Small and large businesses use census statistics to develop business plans, locate facilities, define markets, assess competition, attract investment, manage sales, and evaluate efficiency.
- Business organizations. Industry professionals, economic analysts and business reporters use census statistics to assess industry growth and change, prepare economic forecasts, define legislative priorities, and produce education materials.
- Program agencies. Federal, state and local agencies use census statistics to design economic development and regulatory programs, evaluate program effects, conduct trade negotiations, and prepare revenue and spending plans.
- Statistical agencies. Federal, local, and other statistical agencies use census statistics to validate and update key performance measures, including Federal measures of total domestic production, business productivity, and capacity utilization.
back to faq
3. Why does the government conduct the Economic Census?
The Economic Census provides official measures of output for industries and geographic areas, and serves as the cornerstone of the nation's economic statistics, providing key source data for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and other indicators of economic performance.
back to faq
4. Is completing the Economic Census mandatory?
Yes. Federal law requires you to complete your Economic Census form and return it to the Census Bureau. The United States Code, Title 13, establishes these requirements, applies them to company managers, business owners, and employees, and authorizes penalties for those who do not cooperate. High quality census statistics, including profiles of each U.S. industry and locality, depend on information from each business that receives a 2007 Economic Census form.
- Statistical purpose. Penalty authority is provided to assure high quality U.S. business statistics. It is not intended to coerce businesses or produce revenue.
- No exemptions. The Census Bureau has no authority to exempt or excuse individual businesses from the legal requirement to answer the Economic Census.
- No compensation. The Census Bureau has no authority or funds to reimburse, or otherwise compensate businesses for answering the Economic Census.
- Authorized penalties. The United States Code, Title 13, Chapter 7, coupled with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Title 18, Section 3561, authorizes fines of up to $5000 per form for refusing to answer the census, and up to $10,000 for willfully providing false information.
back to faq
5. Will my answers be confidential?
Yes. Federal law guarantees the confidentiality of information you provide on your census form. The United States Code, Title 13, restricts who can see your information, limits how they can use it, and provides stiff established penalties for any violations. In addition, your information is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, and any file copies you retain are immune from legal process.
- Restricted access. Your information will be seen only by persons who are sworn to uphold the confidentiality provisions of Title 13. The penalty for any violation is a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.
- Limited use. Persons who are authorized to access your information can use it only for statistical purposes. They cannot use it for regulatory or other purposes, to disclose information about you or your business, or to share it with any unauthorized person.
- Protected Information. Census publications contain only aggregated statistics that combine information from many businesses. They do not identify individual businesses or their operations, and they are carefully reviewed to prevent unintended disclosure.
back to faq