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U.S. Census Bureau to survey nation's spending habits

Posted: March 30, 2009 8:49 p.m.
Updated: March 30, 2009 8:00 p.m.

VAN NUYS, Calif. - In April 2009, U.S. Census Bureau field representatives will collect information about how much Americans spend for groceries, clothing, transportation, housing, health care and other items from a sample of households across the country.

The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) program consists of two parts:
-- The Interview Survey - Throughout the year, about 28,000 households will be interviewed once every three months over five calendar quarters to obtain data on relatively large expenditures and also for those expenditures that occur on a regular basis (such as rent and utilities).

-- The Diary Survey --During the year, another 7,000 households will keep two consecutive one-week diaries of smaller, more frequent purchases that may be difficult for respondents to recall later (such as a fast-food purchase at a drive-through window, a soda or candy bar from a vending machine, or a carton of eggs from the supermarket).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics then calculates and publishes integrated data from the two surveys -- providing a snapshot of our nation's economy and spending habits. Government economists use the survey results to update a "market basket of goods and services for the Consumer Price Index, our nation's most widely used measure of inflation.

"The Consumer Price Index," said James T. Christy, director of the Census Bureau's Los Angeles Regional Office, "helps businesses around the country keep wages, salaries and pensions in line with increases in the cost of living."

Before the CE interviews begin, households will receive a letter from the Census Bureau director informing them of their selection to participate in the survey. Census Bureau field representatives will visit these households to conduct the interview. The field representative must display an official photo identification before proceeding with the interview. Federal law ensures survey respondents' personal information and answers are kept confidential

The following data on the amount spent on health care are an example of CE results.

Household Expenditures for Health Care: 2006-2007

                          Average annual amount       Percentage of total
Area                      spent for health care             expenditures

United States               $2,810                                  5.7

Northeast                    $2,618                                  5.2
Boston                        $2,809                                  5.1
New York                     $2,674                                  4.7
Philadelphia                  $2,175                                  4.5

South                           $2,788                                 6.2
Houston                       $3,293                                  5.9
Dallas-Fort Worth          $2,967                                  5.5
Washington, D.C.          $2,641                                  4.0
Baltimore                     $2,431                                  4.6
Atlanta                        $2,355                                  5.0
Miami                          $2,167                                  4.7

Midwest                       $2,957                                  6.3
Minneapolis-St. Paul       $3,705                                  6.2
Cleveland                     $3,293                                   6.9
Chicago                       $3,020                                   5.3
Detroit                        $2,307                                   4.8

West                         $2,857                                     5.0
San Francisco              $3,224                                    4.6
Seattle                       $3,127                                    5.3
Phoenix                      $3,058                                    5.3
San Diego                   $2,613                                    4.8
Los Angeles                $2,324                                    3.8


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