Some service businesses in the contiguous United States, such as auto repair and service shops, were included in the 1929 Census of Distribution, and there was a census of hotels for 1930, but the first major enumeration of selected service establishments was carried out for 1933. Similar censuses were done for 1935, 1939 (when coverage was extended to include Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii), and for 1948. Thereafter, the enumeration of selected service industries became part of the general economic data-collection program, with economic censuses, including service industries, conducted every 5 years. The geographic coverage of the services census was expanded in the 1958 census, when Guam and the Virgin Islands of the United States were added, and again for the 1982 census, when the Northern Mariana Islands became part of the enumeration. The industry coverage was broadened in the 1977 Census of Service Industries, when the limiting word “selected” was dropped as well, and coverage was extended again in the 1992 enumeration.
The economic census, which includes an enumeration of service industries, is taken every 5 years for those years ending in “2” and “7.” Receipts and other figures reported refer to business transacted during the specified reference year. Title 13, United States Code, Census, authorizes the censuses and their related surveys, and makes response to the census and to annual surveys mandatory. (Response to most monthly surveys is voluntary.)
Information supplied to the Census Bureau in response to these censuses and surveys is confidentiality by law, and is published in summary form only. The Census Bureau also makes certain that no individual firm’s operations can be identified from the statistics in the published reports, compact discs, read-only memory (CD-ROM) products, or other electronic media. There are heavy penalties for violating the confidentiality provisions of the law.
The censuses and surveys have generally been conducted by mail, but the 1992 and 1997 Economic Censuses also made use of electronic response (in the 1997 census over 700 companies, with about 250,000 establishments, responded to the census electronically). Census data are collected directly from all large- and medium-size employer firms, and from a sample of smaller employers. Federal administrative records are used for the remaining small employers and for all firms with no paid employees (“nonemployers”).