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September 2005, Vol. 128, No. 9
Nonprofit organizations: new insights from QCEW data
Lester M. Salamon and S. Wojciech Sokolowski
Interest in the broad array of social institutions, which make up the U.S. private, nonprofit sector, has grown substantially in recent years. These institutions, which blend private structure with public purpose, perform various services in American society. Included within this sector are more than half of the Nation’s general hospitals; nearly half of its higher education institutions; most of its family service agencies; almost all of its symphonies; substantial proportions of its nursing homes; and most of its homeless shelters, soup kitchens, community development agencies, and hospices—to name just a few. This set of organizations also has nurtured virtually every social movement that has animated American political life and has constantly provided ways to express the diverse array of ethnic, religious, cultural, artistic, professional, and social values that give special vitality to community life.
Information about nonprofit institutions remains surprisingly sparse, despite concerted efforts of a growing band of researchers over the past several years. One reason for this is the limited data available on nonprofit institutions in existing data sources. Estimates of key dimensions of this sector therefore remain dependent on highly imperfect projections from dated information or on data sources whose accuracy and reliability remain highly suspect. In some respects, in fact, the data sources have deteriorated in recent years. For example, the quintennial Census Bureau Survey of Service Industries, which formerly provided one of the few systematic, albeit delayed, pictures of nonprofit activity as reflected in employment data, has progressively narrowed its focus, with the deletion of coverage of education institutions.1 Although other data sources, such as the Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, which nonprofit organizations are required to file annually, have recently become more accessible, these data sources often suffer from other limitations that make them difficult to use for analytical purposes.2
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1 U.S. Census Bureau, 2002 Economic Census, "Educational Services," on the Internet at http://www.census.gov/econ/census02/guide.
2 One limitation of the Form 990 data, for example, is that they are organization-based rather than establishment-based. This means that all the economic activity of the organization is assigned to the headquarters location, even though nonprofit organizations often maintain numerous establishments spread across States, regions, and metropolitan areas.
Related BLS programs
Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages
of workers in nonprofit organizations—Jul.
Work and the work force in the nonprofit sector.—Apr. 1983.
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