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The statistics corner: new products from the Census Bureau.

*John Ostenso is Economic and Legal Advisor, Bureau of The Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC.

We plan two articles on new statistics from the Census Bureau. John Ostenso has agreed to provide an overview of the many new developments underway. This article features data from the Census Bureau's economic censuses, population censuses, and new digitized mapping system. Censuses are the single best source of information about the U. S. economy, people, and housing. This article discusses data from 1987 censuses of the U. S. economy, including new data, key products, and references to additional information.

-- Joseph W Duncan, Editor, The Statistics Corner

USING CENSUS BUREAU data can be profitable, but also daunting. Like trying to drink from a fire hydrant, getting something is easy, but getting just what you want may not be! For example, data from the economic censuses are contained in more than 700 separate reports, the recent decennial census will add another 900 reports, and a complete digitized map of the U.S. integrates more than 1 million local map sheets. Add to this thousands of more current data reports and a variety of product formats, and the challenge to data users can be formidable.

To meet this challenge and get just what they want, successful users must bring to bear prior experience, good advice, personal effort, research tools, good judgment . . . and perhaps some luck. This article is intended to help both first-time and this-time data users. It features data from the Census Bureau's nine 1987 censuses of the U.S. economy, and highlights changes in coverage and products, data content and availability, and sources of additional information.

Users with limited time might note two general sources of information. First, the Census Catalog and Guide, 1990, was published in June 1990 and is revised annually. The 1990 Catalog includes an inventory of Census Bureau data products, a roster of assistance sources in each state and many localities, and a list of reports planned from the 1990 census. Second, the Census Bureau's Customer Services number is 301-763-4100. This staff can provide comprehensive product and referral information.


The Census Bureau conducts censuses of the U.S. economy every five years, for years ending in "2" and "7." Separate censuses covered nine economic sectors that accounted for nearly 75 percent of U.S. gross national product in 1987. Census coverage is being expanded to account for an estimated 98 percent of GNP in 1992. Sectors covered by recent censuses are agriculture, construction, governments, manufacturing, mining, retail, transportation, services (part), and wholesale. Major sectors not covered are financial, insurance, real estate, and communication services (these industries will be covered in the planned 1992 expansion).

Economic census data are based on mailed-in responses or administrative records for over 12 million domestic businesses (individual establishment locations), 2 million farm operators, and 82,000 government entities. Reports from these censuses provide the most encyclopedic information available about the U. S. economy. This information is unique in quality, geographic and industry detail, and historical length and comparability.

The best single reference for users of the economic censuses is the Guide to the 1987 Economic Censuses and Related Statistics, published in January 1990. The 1987 Guide outlines key census concepts, lists and illustrates census data products, highlights new coverage and content, and discusses census-related and current surveys that can supplement basic census data. Separate guides are available to assist users of the agriculture and government censuses.

Compared to five years ago, data products from the 1987 economic censuses offer several new features. These include expanded industry coverage, new kinds of information, and data in CD-ROM (compact dise-read only memory) format for personal computers. Expanded industry coverage includes data for all profit and nonprofit hospitals, and for motor freight and warehousing, water transportation, and transportation services industries. New information includes measures of the foreign content of U.S. manufactured goods, statistics on manufacturers that export, export receipts for more service industries, use of revised 1987 Standard Industrial Classifications (SICs), and more complete information on farm expenses and income. CD-ROMs mean instant access via personal computer to virtually all 1987 data contained in printed reports, plus important unpublished and historical data (including data for retail merchandise lines, ZIP Code areas, and selected 1982 and 1977 census data).


The first economic census reports were published late in 1988, and the last reports will be available late in 1991. Early reports provided data for agriculture operators and the construction industry, and late reports will contain subject detail for manufacturing and mining industries. Key types of economic census data products include reports that provide detailed geographic, subject, and industry information, and products in CD-ROM format.

Geographic area reports present census statistics for employer establishments by industry and geographic area. (See Table 1.) General statistics are included for every industry, such as establishment counts, number of employees, payroll, and sales or receipts. Other data and industry detail vary by census and report. Some 2-, 3-, and 4-digit SIC detail is available for all private sector industries, and state-by-state detail is provided for all censuses. County-level information is available for each census except for construction and transportation industries, and many reports include metropolitan area, small place (down to 2,500 persons), and ZIP Code area detail. ZIP Code products are only available for retail trade, service and manufacturing industries, and the agriculture sector; and data detail is somewhat limited (e.g., establishment counts by industry and sales and employment size groups). A separate series of "nonemployer" reports provides data for single-location retail and service businesses that have no paid employees; geographic detail is comparable to that of the employer reports.

Subject reports provide information on topics of special user interest for the nation, with limited detail for states and metropolitan areas. Topics featured in this series include retail merchandise line sales, manufacturing concentration ratios, and company-wide summaries by size and type of organization.

Industry reports present national and selected state data for manufacturing, mining, and construction establishments. Reports in this series feature detail on materials consumed and products made by industry, categories of operating expense, value-added, capital expenditures, and depreciable assets.

Other reports provide census results for outlying areas, and supplementary information obtained through special followup surveys. Outlying areas reports cover all business sectors except governments, and include the areas of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Special survey reports address diverse topics, including unduplicated company-wide data for larger enterprises, minority- and women-owned businesses, farm financing and irrigation practices, and real property assessment values.


An unprecedented amount and variety of data from the 1987 economic censuses are available for use with personal (micro) computers. Information is available in all or some of three formats: an online data service, floppy diskettes, and CD-ROMs.

The on-line data service is called CENDATA. CENDATA is available nationwide through cooperating private vendors, and is the fastest way to obtain recently released economic data (e.g., press releases, summary census results, current survey results, and updated product ordering information).

Floppy diskettes provide data for six of the censuses (data for construction, mineral industries and transportation are not available), but their content is limited compared to the CD-ROMs. For example, 1987 Census of Agriculture highlights for the nation, and each state and county, are available on fifty-three high-density diskettes. Comparable CDROMS provide all of these data, plus additional 1987 and prior-census data.

CD-ROMs provide data for each of the 1987 censuses except governments. CD-ROM data are being released in three volumes: one for state- and county-level agriculture data; a second covering geographic, subject, industry, and other data from the seven private sector censuses; and a third with data by ZIP Code area for the retail, service, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors.

CD-ROM discs are a particularly useful new data product for the economic and agriculture censuses. The three CD-ROM volumes will hold more data than the twenty-five mainframe computer tapes required for comparable 1982 information; the same discs can be used on an IBM or Ibm-compatible PC, a Macintosh, and a Unix-based workstation; and the discs are erasure-protected and virtually indestructible in normal use.

Data on CD-ROM discs are recorded in a format that can be used directly with many commercially available software programs (including dbase Ill and IV, Lotus 3.0, and Quattro Pro). In addition, public domain software programs that facilitate use of the 1987 CD-ROMs are included on the latest disc, and available separately from a nonprofit vendor.

The EXTRACT program provides menu-driven options for viewing the data on each disc, selecting data and creating custom reports, and extracting data files for import into other software or transfer to another PC.

The PROFILE programs can be used to produce pre-formatted summaries of selected 1987 economic census data for any state or county.

Other Census Bureau data series are also available in CD-ROM format. For example, discs are currently available that contain monthly merchandise trade data, and annual County Business Patterns data. Some discs with 1990 decennial census data are available now, and more will be issued through 1993.


Symposium on the Economic Censuses, Government Information Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 3, (1987). This is a special publicly available journal issue that provides comprehensive information on economic censuses history, processes, and uses.

Guide to the 1987 Economic Censuses and Related Statistics (January 1990). Provides comprehensive information for users of all the economic censuses, and other data series sometimes used with the censuses.

Guide to the 1987 Census of Agriculture and Related Statistics (September 1989). Provides detailed product descriptions, illustrations, and information for users of the census of agriculture.

Guide to the 1987 Census of Governments (May 1991). Illustrates every table and data element included in reports from the census of governments.

Single copies of the guides, and order forms for printed reports, are available free of charge from the Census Bureau's Customer Services office (see contact information below).

Printed reports of 1987 economic censuses data are sold by mail, telephone, and facsimile order by the U.S. Government Printing Office (Washington, DC 20402; voice phone 202-783-3238; FAX 202-275-0019).

Computer and microfiche products for the 1987 censuses, and some printed reports for prior censuses, are sold by mail, telephone, and facsimile order by the U.S. Census Bureau, Customer Services office (Washington, DC 20233; voice phone 301-763-4100; FAX 301-763-4794).

Table 1

Geographic Detail in Economic Censuses Geography
1987 CENSUS States MSA's Counties Places ZIP Codes Other
Manufacturing x x x x x
Services x x x x x
Retail Trade x x x x x
Wholesale Trade X x x x
Mining x x
Transportation x x
Construction x x
Agriculture x x x x
Governments x x x x
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Author:Ostenso, John
Publication:Business Economics
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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