the CE underreports spending in many expenditure categories. In particular, the aggregate CE amount for food for 1992-2000 averaged 72 percent of the corresponding PCE aggregate (see Garner et al., 2003). Income is also underreported, particularly for low-income families for whom reported expenditures often exceed reported income (Meyer and Sullivan, 2004).

Possible Improvements

Enhancements to the Consumer Expenditure Survey similar to those we suggest above for the integrated NHANES could extend the usefulness of the CE data, particularly the diary survey, for food and nutrition-related research and policy analysis. For example, reporting of Food Stamp Program participation could be validated and enhanced by matching CE records with the program’s administrative records. Neighborhood characteristics from the 2000 census and the American Community Survey could be added to the CE records, as could links to geographically based information on retail food outlets. Although the CE is one of the most burdensome federal surveys, it might be possible to occasionally include supplemental questions related to food purchasing and consumption behavior that would enhance the value of the data for food and nutrition-related research.

To the extent that these initiatives increase the possible risks of disclosing confidential information, researchers would need to access the data at the BLS research data center at its headquarters in Washington, DC. It might also be possible to arrange for researchers to access enhanced CE microdata files on their own computers through a licensing agreement (see National Research Council, 2005a).

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