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Handbook of Methods Consumer Expenditures and Income Presentation

Consumer Expenditures and Income: Presentation

Information from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) is available in tables, microdata files, a LABSTAT database, and publications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also provides outreach with regularly occurring free events like the Survey Methods Symposium and Microdata Users’ Workshop. When budget and opportunity permit, BLS staff who work on the CE attend conferences, visit college and university campuses, and arrange meetings with interested parties. For more information, contact the Consumer Expenditure Surveys, Office of Prices and Living Conditions at (202) 691-6900 or by email at CE staff are available Monday through Friday to respond to inquiries. To be notified when new products are available, please sign up for CE updates.


BLS publishes a standard set of CE tables each year, which includes income quintile, income decile, income class, age of reference person, generation of reference person, selected age ranges of reference person, size of consumer unit (CU), number of earners, composition of CU, Census region of residence, population size of area, housing tenure, race, Hispanic origin, occupation, highest education level of any member, and type of area (i.e., urban or rural). As part of the annual release, the CE program also publishes cross-tabulated tables by age, region, size of CU, and gender; additional detailed geographic breakouts; multiyear tables with means for several years; as well as detailed top line means tables that include the most granular level of expenditure data available, along with variances and percent reporting for each expenditure item. disaggregated to the most detailed expenditure categories available. Tables going back as far as 1960–61 are available on the CE website. Unpublished, but releasable, tables of detailed expenditures by demographic characteristic can be obtained by sending a request to

Table estimates include some combination of means, shares, and variances. Starting with the 2000 data, estimates of standard error for integrated Diary and Interview Surveys data are available on the BLS website. For more information about the tables and their uses, see the tables getting started guide.

BLS also periodically performs special tabulations and makes them available as part of the CE research products page. The current set of research tables includes annual means by income quintiles for selected states, which utilize state weights and public use microdata (PUMD). These tables cover 2 years of data to increase the reliability of the data.


Microdata for CE are available in two formats—public use microdata (PUMD) and restricted microdata. Both types are available for the Diary and Interview Surveys and contain expenditure and income data for each CU. The PUMD undergo additional processing to protect the identities of respondents by eliminating selected geographic detail and topcoding selected income and expenditure data. Topcoding refers to a confidentiality protection method in which a subset of extremely high or low values are averaged together and the original values are replaced with the average amount. The restricted microdata have not had these steps taken, so more detailed geographic information as well as data not topcoded are available. Restricted data can be accessed by applying to BLS on-site researcher program.

Interview Survey files contain detailed expenditure data in two different formats: MTBI files that present monthly values in an item-coding framework based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) pricing scheme; and EXPN files that organize expenditures by the section of the Interview Survey questionnaire in which they are collected. Expenditure values on EXPN files cover different time periods depending on the specific questions asked, and the files also contain relevant non-expenditure information not found on the MTBI files. For those interested in examining broader categories of expenditures (e.g., housing or owned dwellings) rather than detailed items (e.g., mortgage interest or property taxes), summary variables are also available on the FMLI files. The Diary Survey contains detailed expenditure data in the EXPD files, all items in a coding framework based on the CPI, along with family level statistics in the FMLD files.

Users can also use the expenditure data to calculate representative statistics with the weight variable FINLWT21. This variable attributes a weight to each NEWID, the identifying variable for one CU for one quarter, which allows users to estimate values for the entire population. This variable is available in the FMLI and FMLD files.

In addition, CE is researching weights that will allow PUMD to be representative of select states. BLS makes these weights available for use, as well as state level tables, and detailed tables on the CE research products page.

For more information on using the PUMD see the PUMD getting started guide. The annual Interview and Diary Surveys microdata files are available beginning with 1984, as well as for selected earlier years.


The CE LABSTAT database provides tools to access historical CE data (1984 onward) to produce trends in expenditures by demographic groups of interest. Documentation on how to use the CE LABSTAT database is available in the CE LABSTAT getting started guide.  Not all tabular data are in the CE LABSTAT database. For example, The CE LABSTAT database only contains calendar year data, so midyear tables cannot be replicated using the database. The detail of items in LABSTAT is less than the detail available on standard tables. Similarly, the CE LABSTAT database does not include data on variances or by metropolitan statistical areas. You can find the additional tabulations on the CE tables page.


BLS publishes CE news releases each year along with the calendar year tables. The news releases summarize the estimates and changes associated with each release. Articles that include analyses of CE data are published online in the Monthly Labor Review, Beyond the Numbers, Spotlight on Statistics, in CE data comparisons, and in research reports. For a listing of these and other articles, see the CE publications page. Other survey information is available on the CE website, including answers to frequently asked questions, copies of the Interview and Diary Surveys, and a glossary of terms for survey products.

CE Survey Methods Symposium and Microdata Users’ Workshop

The CE Survey Methods Symposium focuses on survey methodology, and typically features staff who work on the CE and other BLS surveys along with invited researchers who are not affiliated with the BLS. The symposium is typically a 1-day event.

Held over 3 days, the CE Microdata Users’ Workshop starts with presentations designed for those who have never used the data and builds to expert topics. The workshop also features presentations from researchers not affiliated with BLS who describe the nature of their projects, specific files and variables they use, the problems (and solutions) they have encountered working with the data, and any other relevant topics they care to share. The workshop also features opportunities to meet one-on-one with a BLS expert who works on the CE to discuss any aspect of a current or potential project, general or specific, about which the attendee has questions or concerns. BLS selects presentations from researchers who answer the call for presenters.

More information about these events is available on the CE Symposium and Workshop website.

Last Modified Date: September 12, 2022