Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Consumer Expenditure Surveys Methods Symposium and Microdata Users' Workshop, July 18-21, 2017

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Consumer Expenditure Surveys Methods Symposium and Microdata Users' Workshop, July 18-21, 2017

Article excerpt

The Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) program collects expenditures, demographics, and income data from families and households. To address CE-related topics in survey methods research, provide free training in the structure and uses of the CE microdata, and explore possibilities for collaboration, the CE program held its annual Survey Methods Symposium and Microdata Users' Workshop from July 18 to 21, 2017. Several economists from the CE program, staff from other U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offices, and research experts in a variety of fields--including academia, government, market research, and other private industry areas--gathered together to explore better ways to collect CE data and to learn how to use the microdata once they are produced.

The Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) are the most detailed source of expenditures, demographics, and income that the federal government collects directly from families and households (or, more precisely, "consumer units"). (1) In addition to publishing standard expenditure tables twice a year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) CE program releases annual microdata on the CE website from its two component surveys (the Quarterly Interview Survey and the Diary Survey). Researchers use these data in a variety of fields, including academia, government, market research, and other private industry areas. (2)

In July 2006, the CE program office conducted the first in a series of annual workshops in order to achieve three goals: (1) to help users better understand the structure of the CE microdata; (2) to provide training in the uses of the surveys; and (3) to promote awareness, through presentations by current users and interactive forums, of the different ways the data are used, and thus provide opportunities to explore collaboration. In 2009, the workshop expanded from 2 days to 3 days to include presentations from data users not affiliated with BLS. This allowed users to showcase their experiences with the public use microdata (CE PUMD) files, to discuss problems and successes using the data, and to seek comment and guidance from CE program staff in completing their work.

Starting in 2012, the program office preceded the workshop with an additional 1-day symposium to explore topics in survey methods research in support of the CE Gemini Redesign Project (Gemini Project), a major initiative to redesign the CE (

In addition to the CE program staff, workshop speakers have included economists from BLS regional offices and researchers not affiliated with BLS. Similarly, symposium speakers have included CE program staff, other BLS National Office staff, and speakers from outside BLS. This article describes the 2017 Survey Methods Symposium, conducted July 18, 2017, and the 2017 Microdata Users' Workshop, conducted July 19-21, 2017.

Survey methods symposium

The 2017 Symposium presentations focused on four research topics that are key features of the ongoing Gemini redesign initiative, following a similar format to that used in the 2016 Symposium. The four research topics were incentives, record use, online and personal diaries, and data quality. The CE program office invited representatives from other federal, international, and private-sector surveys to share information about their existing methods and experiences on these research topics. The goals of the symposium were (1) to share CE research findings with stakeholders, survey researchers, and data users and (2) to promote a discussion about common challenges and solutions related to CE and other surveys as we try to produce high-quality data in a time of declining response rates, changing respondent behavior, and rising costs of data collection.

The day was divided into four sessions, each centered on one of the four research topics. In each session, a representative from the CE program opened with a presentation on the CE experience, focusing on not only the results of the research, but also the goals to be reached related to the topic and the challenges encountered. …

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