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Consumer Expenditure Surveys
Bureau of Labor Statistics > Consumer Expenditure Survey > Methods > Improvements and Protocol Changes

Improvements and protocol changes

The CE program continuously assesses and updates its data collection, processing, and dissemination procedures in order to improve data quality and cost efficiencies. The information below presents a chronological list of selected survey improvements and protocol changes by year, starting with the transition to a continuous survey in late 1979. The list includes major improvements and changes in data collection methods, processing changes, and new data products. In some cases, notable but otherwise minor improvements and changes are listed. In many years, survey questionnaire content is updated; see the relevant section(s) of the Survey Questionnaires and Materials page for more details.


  • Introduced a revision to the Interview Survey
    • Added a new section, Family Care and Education that combines questions previously asked across the interview on education, day care and camps, babysitting, school meals, adult day care and in-home care. 
    • Added a new section on Transportation that combines questions on vehicle operating expenses with questions on transportation via taxis, limousines, app-based ride shares, bike, scooter or moped rental using sharing services, and public transport.
    • Revised the Expense Patterns section to simplify the questions on usual weekly expenses for groceries, food or beverages consumed away from home, alcohol consumed at home, cigarettes and tobacco products.  
    • Reworded several expenditure questions across the survey to include the collection of sales tax while deleting follow-up questions asking if sales tax is included in the expenditure.
    • Added questions to gather the point of purchase for foreign locations for several items across the survey.


  • Implemented official online Diary Survey form
  • Consolidated categories for Meals Away from Home and Alcohol Away from Home in the Diary survey, meals and alcohol are now reported by type of establishment rather than meal type
  • Redefined the definition of rural areas in the CE Type of Area tables
  • Introduced 2010-2021 standard errors for CE estimates in the LABSTAT database (ongoing)


  • Redesigned the Interview Survey clothing section, replacing detailed questions with global questions
  • Began releasing Public Use Microdata (PUMD) on a semiannual basis (ongoing)


  • Published PUMD previously unavailable on the CE website for 1980-1996 data
  • Developed and posted the research product state-level tables by income (ongoing)
  • Increased sample sizes for the Diary Survey by 53 percent and the Interview Survey by 11 percent in support of the CPI Commodities and Services Survey outlet frame
  • Due to COVID-19 interviewing restrictions, implemented contingencies with telephone data collection for both the Interview and Diary surveys and a temporary online diary for the Diary Survey
  • Administered Economic Impact Payment (stimulus) questions in the Interview Survey


  • In the Diary Survey form, added point-of-purchase questions in the following sections: Food and Drinks at Home; Meals, Snacks, and Drinks away from Home; and All Other Products, Services, and Expenses
  • Published the LABSTAT Getting Started Guide
  • Introduced Census Division tables for 2017-2018 data (ongoing)
  • Added extended recall point-of-purchase questions as a supplement to the shorter recall period questions


  • Added a U.S. military veteran status question to the Interview and Diary surveys
  • Added point-of-purchase questions to the Interview Survey to serve as the main source for CPI's Commodities and Services survey sampling frame


  • Introduced generational tables to the production release, for 2016 data (ongoing)
  • First release of the research product state-level weights, for use with 2016 data (ongoing)
  • Changed the Diary Survey protocol to include placement of the two weekly diaries in one visit, as a cost efficiency step after research confirming nonimpact on expenditures
  • Expanded the Diary Survey placement periods from assigned 7-day windows to anytime during the collection month
  • Remodeled the Interview health insurance section after the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) health insurance section
  • Expanded the amount of the last payment and the payment period question wording to non-health insurance and condo/HOA


  • Published PUMD from 1996 and afterwards to the CE website


  • Eliminated the bounding interview as a cost efficiency step after research confirming limited utility in addressing telescoping error


  • Added income as a weighting variable to the non-interview adjustment calculations


  • Introduced the release of midyear tables
  • Introduced federal and state income tax estimation using the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) tax simulator (TAXSIM) in survey data processing
  • Replaced Interview Survey health insurance 3-month recall amount question with improved questions asking about the amount of the last payment and the payment period
  • Introduced a streamlined income section to the questionnaire
  • Introduced the combined Assets and Liabilities section to the questionnaire


  • Began providing supplemental poverty thresholds based on CE data to the Census Bureau for use in the production of the Census Bureau's Supplemental Poverty Measure


  • Transitioned to a continuous updating process for the survey sample design



  • For the first time, released publication tables and PUMD on the same date, with the release of 2008 data



  • Added CHI to the Diary Survey
  • Added questions to the Interview Survey on the new Medicare Prescription Drug benefit
  • Hosted the first annual Public Use Microdata Users' Workshop at BLS



  • Implemented model-based income imputations in survey data processing


  • Transitioned from Pen and Paper Personal Interviewing to Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI)
  • Published the first CE Anthology
  • Added a Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino status question to the surveys
  • Updated the questionnaire to replace the marital status category "other" with "unmarried partner"
  • Updated the questionnaire to replace the marital status categories "husband" and "wife" with "married partner"


  • Updated the Interview Survey questionnaire to collect income data using income brackets
  • Administered 2001 tax rebate questions in the Interview Survey


  • Posted all historic CE tables for expenditure means dating back to 1984 on the CE website
  • Provided standard error tables on the CE website for the first time


  • Introduced cognitive testing to the questionnaire design process, improving question wording and minimizing measurement error
  • Increased CE sample size by 50 percent, allowing for more frequent CPI weight updates



  • Provided CE data tables to the public on the CE website for the first time


  • Published bulletins were changed to reports to be free of charge to the public


  • Changed the recall period for Food at Home questions from monthly to weekly


  • Began annual publication of data tables
  • Integrated Diary and Interview survey data for publication in CE reports and bulletins


  • Restored the rural sample


  • Discontinued the rural sample due to budgetary constraints


  • Began annual data collection in urban and rural areas


Last Modified Date: September 18, 2023