April 2014

Consumer Expenditure Survey Microdata Users’ Workshop and Survey Methods Symposium, 2013

The 2013 Consumer Expenditure Survey Microdata Users’ Workshop and Survey Methods Symposium included presentations from BLS and non-BLS economists and researchers.

The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) is the most detailed source of expenditures, demographics, and income collected by the federal government. Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) CE program releases microdata on the CE website from its two component surveys (the Quarterly Interview Survey and the Diary Survey), which are used by researchers in a variety of fields, including academia, government, market research, and other private industry areas.1

In July 2006, the CE program office conducted the first in a series of annual workshops to help users better understand the structure of the CE microdata; provide training in the uses of the surveys; and, through presentations by current users and interactive forums, promote awareness of the different ways the data are used and explore possibilities for collaboration.

In 2012 and 2013, an additional day was added to the event to explore topics in survey methods research to support the major project to redesign the CE survey, called Gemini (more information on this project can be found here: 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. In this report, Ian Elkin describes the survey methods symposium, which took place on July 16, 2013, and Geoffrey Paulin describes the workshop that immediately followed it, on July 17–19, 2013.

Survey methods symposium

The goals of the 2013 CE Survey Methods Symposium were 1) to provide an overview and preliminary results from the Web Diary Feasibility test, the status of the Interview-to-Interview Imputation Methods project, and recommendations/overview regarding the use of financial records in the CE Survey; and 2) to feature presentations regarding the Gemini Survey Redesign project and a comparison of other consumer expenditure surveys. There were two sessions, one on each topic.
Preliminary Results

Web Diary Test: Preliminary Findings. Ian Elkin (CE) provided an overview of the Web Diary Feasibility Test, specifically on preliminary findings and how those findings are being used to improve the Individual Diaries Feasibility Test. Web Diary inputs leading into an improved Individual Diaries Feasibility Test include 1) targeted sampling, 2) paradata monitoring, 3) streamlined and efficient design, 4) straightforward respondent materials, 5) comprehensive field representative training, 6) additional follow-up procedures, and 7) modified receipt/recall procedures. Preliminary results from the Web Diary Feasibility Test analysis illustrate the potential benefits of a multi-modal approach; however, more testing is necessary to fully realize this potential.

Imputing Across Interviews: Balancing Time Savings and Data Quality. The second presentation started with a stated goal of reducing respondent burden balanced with maintaining a high level of quality of data. Geoffrey Paulin (CE) provided insight into the impact of removing the bounding interview from the CEQ Interview survey and the work being done to mitigate the increase in interview time to the current second wave.


1 The Quarterly Interview Survey is designed to collect data on expenditures for big-ticket items (e.g., major appliances, cars and trucks) and recurring items (e.g., payments for rent, mortgage, or insurance). In the Interview Survey, participants are visited once every 3 months for five consecutive quarters. Data from the first interview are collected only for bounding purposes and are not published.

In the Diary Survey, participants record expenditures daily for 2 consecutive weeks. The survey is designed to collect expenditures for small-ticket and frequently purchased items, such as detailed types of food (e.g., white bread, ground beef, butter, lettuce).

The CE microdata may be downloaded on the CE website (

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About the Author

Ian Elkin

Ian Elkin is a senior economist in the Consumer Expenditure Survey Program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Geoffrey D. Paulin

Geoffrey D. Paulin is a senior economist in the Consumer Expenditure Survey Program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.