The U.S. Census Bureau has extended the deadline for the 2017 economic census, the five-year survey of nearly 3.7 million U.S. businesses and their impact on the nation’s economy.
The bureau, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, officially began notifying businesses nationwide by mail on May 1 with instructions on how to complete the survey online. For the 2017 survey, businesses nationwide were asked to report their year-end numbers for each business location, including sales or revenue, employment, payroll and other industry-specific information.
Originally, the deadline for responding to the survey was Tuesday, June 12, but Commerce Department officials extended that deadline a week later to June 19. The first set of data from the survey are scheduled to be released in September 2019. All data will be released by December 2021.
“The sooner businesses report, the sooner we can begin reviewing data to meet our publication dates,” said Kimberly Moore, who heads the bureau’s Economy-Wide Statistics division.
In a recent blog post, Census Bureau Economist and Statistician Andrew Hait wrote the 2017 survey was adjusted to capture data on new businesses and new ways of providing goods and services that go beyond traditional ones. For example, grocery stores that also sell gasoline are becoming more popular with consumers for convenience reasons.
“Researchers want to measure the sales of specific and all-inclusive goods and services across business types to understand these changes, but the way these products were collected as ‘product lines’ made this difficult,” Hait wrote.
To address the challenge, the Census Bureau will be the first program to implement the federal government’s new North American Product Classification System (NAPCS), a new classification system that consistently tracks goods and services across business types to more accurately detail what is produced and sold within each industry.
“This new classification system consistently tracks goods and services across business types to more accurately detail what is produced and sold within each industry,” said Hait. “This will make comparing these products and services across business types, or industries, much easier.”
In addition to the NAPCS database, the Census Bureau will also implement the first changes in five years to the older North American Industry Classification System, commonly known as NAICS. Under that system established in 1997 to replace the former Standard Industrial Classification system, the federal government can classify and uniformly compare data from the different sectors of the growing U.S. economy.
Hait said the economic census will update NAICS to better collect data on modern technologies and track new and emerging innovations that businesses across sectors are now employing in their locations. These updates include new, separately recognized industries, industry consolidations and definition changes, and industries that are no longer recognized separately because they are in decline.
“NAPCS compliments NAICS, it doesn’t replace it,” Census Bureau spokeswoman Amy Newcomb said in response to a Talk Business & Politics query. “NAICS provides the framework for us to report data by industry, while we will also publish product lines across industries by NAPCS code.”
For example, the 2012 economic census was the first program at the bureau to publish data on the rapidly growing solar, wind, geothermal and biomass electric power industries. In 2016, there were 153 solar power businesses that employed 1,564 employees, and 233 Wind Power businesses that employed 3,148 employees.
MEASURING NEW TECHNOLOGIES, PRACTICES
On another front, Hait said to help measure new technologies and practices used by U.S. employers, the questions asked of businesses have changed to capture information on the new methods. In one instance, Hait said analysts noticed a change in how manufacturers reported their employment and what types of employees were being counted. He said businesses were reporting lower employment and payroll data and higher contract expenses than expected.
“After discussions with industry and association experts, Census Bureau staff discovered the emerging trend of ‘leased employees,’” Hait said, adding that the new technique now allows highly seasonal manufacturers and other businesses to maintain lower levels of full-time, yearlong employees and bring on additional staff during busy times. “In response, a question was added to our surveys that asks businesses to report these leased employees.”
In 2016, the Annual Survey of Manufacturers published new data showing that U.S. manufacturers reported nearly $35.5 billion in expenses for temporary staff and leased employees, compared to $643.4 billion in annual payroll for actual employees.
“None of these changes to the economic census questions would be possible without input from U.S. businesses, business associations and organizations, and data users,” Hait wrote. “The Census Bureau conducts extensive cognitive testing with its stakeholders to ensure the new data is reportable by businesses and usable for statistical purposes.”
UPCOMING 2020 CENSUS
As the principal agency of the nation’s federal statistical system, which include other research and statistic arms housed in top federal agencies like the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Energy, Labor, Education and Health and Human Services, the Census Bureau conducts more than 30 monthly, quarterly and annual business surveys that measure the U.S. economy.
The economic census is the Commerce Department bureau’s largest program and serves as the benchmark for nearly all the other economic surveys produced by the federal government. It also serves as an important input for other key economic indicators for the U.S. economy, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and nation’s monthly employment snapshot.
Earlier this year, the Census Bureau delivered its planned questions to Congress for the 2020 census, which include age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, relationship, homeownership status and citizenship status. By law, the Commerce Department must deliver decennial census questions to Congress two years before so-called Census Day, which occurs on April 1, 2020.
“The goal of the census is to count every person living in the United States once, only once and in the right place,” said Ron Jarmin, the acting director of the bureau. “The 2020 Census is easy, safe and important. The census asks just a few questions and takes about 10 minutes to respond. For the first time, you can choose to respond online, by phone or by mail.”
Earlier this month, the ACLU and other civil rights groups sued the administration of President Donald Trump to try and prevent census takers from quizzing U.S. residents about their citizenship. After announcing the plan in late March, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the citizenship question was being reinstated to the recurring 10-year population count to help the Trump administration enforce the Voting Rights Act, the 53-year old law meant to protect minority voting privileges.