the Census Bureau selecting the sample and conducting fieldwork under contract to BLS. This CE design was the first to highlight its current configuration of two separate surveys (a recall Interview survey and a Diary survey) working in tandem (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008).
BLS recognized the need to conduct a survey more frequently, noting that “rapidly changing economic conditions highlighted by the oil crisis in the 1970s illustrated the need for more frequent monitoring of the spending patterns of American consumers. . . . Rapid inflation—in excess of 13 percent from 1979 to 1980—further demonstrated the need for more frequent updates to the CPI budget shares than every decade” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010a, p. 1). This led to changing the CE into an annual survey based on the 1972–1973 design.
The availability of microdata from these surveys opened the door to the investigation of a broad range of important questions, in the public as well as the private domains. As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (1978, p. 1), the 1960–1961 survey “was also valuable in satisfying the growing interest of market researchers, government officials, and private users of data on income, expenditures, and assets and liabilities of American families.” Carlson (1974, p. 1) points out that by the time of the next periodic expenditure survey in 1972–1973, “[non-CPI] uses of the data [had] become increasingly important,” including the evaluation of economic policies, provision of supplemental information for the calculation of the National Accounts data, and market research.
The broad use of the CE for multiple research needs, in addition to the calculation of the budget shares for the CPI, persists to this day. As explained by BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011a), “[The CE] is used by economic policy makers examining the impact of policy changes on economic groups, by businesses and academic researchers studying consumers’ spending habits and trends, by other Federal agencies, and, perhaps most importantly, to regularly revise the Consumer Price Index market basket of goods and services and their relative importance.” Jay Ryan (2010), director of the Consumer Expenditure Survey Division in BLS, said in a presentation to the June 2010 CE Data Users’ Needs Forum that the purpose of the CE is “to collect, produce, and disseminate information that presents a statistical picture of consumer spending for the Consumer Price Index, government agencies, and private data users.”
Since the 1980 makeover, BLS has improved the basic survey design of the CE (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1983, 1997). The most important of these improvements were the conversion of the “Interview questionnaire” to computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) in 2003 and a more “user-friendly” redesign of the Diary form in 2005. Other smaller changes also have been made, often associated with a regular biennial review that can initiate over 100 changes to the questionnaire and survey procedures.