to use records when being interviewed over the phone. Only 4 percent of field representatives reported that respondents were much more likely or somewhat more likely to use records in a phone interview. However, 39 percent of field representatives reported that respondents were neither less likely nor more likely to use records on a phone interview.
Conclusion 5-8: The use of records is extremely important to reporting expenditures and income accurately. The use of records on the current CE is far less than optimal and varies across the population. A redesigned CE would need to include features that maximize the use of records where at all feasible and that work to maximize accuracy of recall when records are unavailable.
Proxy Reporting in the Interview Survey
According to the CE procedures, multiple household members are not interviewed even though most households have more than one person who makes purchases. The field representative attempts to interview the “most knowledgeable” household member. Schaeffer (2010) reported that proxy information reported by one person for another in many types of surveys has been found to be inaccurate. In the CE, the household respondent may be unaware of purchases made by other household members (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010b).
The effect of proxy reporting is serious, especially for “personal” purchases such as clothing or for purchases that household members want to keep private. A survey of CE field representatives (Mockovak, Edgar, and To, 2010) quantified this problem. Field representatives reported the issue of the household respondent not knowing about purchases made by others in the consumer unit (household) as one of the two most important reasons for underreporting of expenditures. More than half (53%) mentioned it as 6 or 7 on a 7-point scale of importance. In households with multiple purchasers, field representatives reported 18 percent of the time that a second person never or almost never participates in the CE survey. An additional 48 percent mentioned that it happens less than half of the time.
Multiple considerations may underlie the inability of one person to report for others. Household members may have separate sources of income. In addition, they may have separate bank accounts and credit cards. While each person may contribute to household expenses, the exact amounts of the other person’s contribution may be unknown; for example, one person buys food while the other pays housing costs. The great variety of arrangements for handling individual and joint income complicates the reporting of consumer expenditures. In addition, field representatives have reported it appears that some other household members may intentionally withhold information from the household respondent.