Against a backdrop of unprecedented circumstances resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau recognizes the need for accurate, real-time data on the U.S. population and economy.
The ability to understand how individuals and businesses are weathering the current crisis is critical given business disruption, stay-at-home orders, school closures, changes in the availability of consumer goods and consumer patterns, and other abrupt and significant changes to American life.
The Census Bureau is answering the call with three new, major data products.
The goal is to measure various sectors impacted by COVID-19: employment status, consumer spending, food security, housing, education disruptions and dimensions of physical and mental wellness.
Today, the Census Bureau is launching the Household Pulse Survey. Later this week, the Small Business Pulse Survey will begin. Both will provide weekly measures of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on U.S. households and businesses.
The move comes just weeks after the Census Bureau rolled out a weekly, more localized version of its Business Formation Statistics (BFS) to address the nation’s need for accurate, current information on the health of U.S. businesses.
Survey results can assist businesses and help guide decisions on COVID-19 economic aid and recovery packages.
The Household Pulse Survey grew out of an effort by the Census Bureau to leverage the expertise of other federal statistical agencies. The goal is to measure various sectors impacted by COVID-19: employment status, consumer spending, food security, housing, education disruptions and dimensions of physical and mental wellness.
The Household Pulse Survey will produce and disseminate data on these social and economic factors in near real-time each week.
It is designed to measure and track change over time. The Census Bureau will implement the sample as an overlapping panel survey. Each panel is in the survey for three weeks and then replaced by a new, three-week panel. Respondents in each panel will be interviewed every week for three weeks.
The Census Bureau worked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Center for Health Statistics, USDA Economic Research Service, Department for Housing and Urban Development, and the National Center for Education Statistics.
Starting Sunday, the Census Bureau will invite more than 100,000 small businesses each week to respond to a short, emailed 16-checkbox survey estimated to take five minutes or less to complete.
The survey is expected to reach nearly one million small businesses over nine weeks and results could be shared beginning mid-May on census.gov.
The Small Business Pulse includes information on location closings, changes in employment, disruptions in the supply chain, the use of federal assistance programs, and expectations concerning future operations. Collaborators included the Small Business Administration, Minority Business Development Agency and others.
The Census Bureau defines small businesses as single business locations with one to 499 employees.
Earlier this month, the Census Bureau began releasing weekly business application data at the national and regional level as part of the Business Formation Statistics series.
Initially released as a quarterly, experimental product in February 2018, BFS tracks trends in business applications and formations at the state, regional, and national level. The new weekly data provide timely and granular information on the state of the economy.
Appropriate caution is required when interpreting fluctuations since high-frequency weekly data are subject to variation from seasonal factors, including holidays and the beginning and end of calendar-year effects.
We will publish the weekly BFS series every Thursday at noon EDT as data visualizations below:
The weekly data will be available for a limited time. The Census Bureau will assess the demand for these data on an ongoing basis.
BFS comprises four business application series derived from administrative data from the Internal Revenue Service (specifically, data on applications for an Employer Identification Number via IRS Form SS-4) to determine the number of business applications submitted in a quarter. The quarterly BFS also includes projections for business formations in the near future.
The business applications series are strong predictors of business startups that create jobs. New and young businesses are a primary source of job creation in the United States.
Timely and comprehensive information on recent business startups can help researchers, policymakers, analysts and the business community assess recent national and local trends in business formation. That way, they can better monitor the state of entrepreneurial activity in the United States, anticipate shifts in economic conditions and develop responses.
With the new weekly Pulse and BFS surveys, the U.S. Census Bureau is responding to the urgent need for accurate, frequent data at this crucial moment in America’s history.
Additional information on how the Census Bureau is responding to the COVID-19 is available here.
Jane Callen is the senior writer/editor in the Census Bureau's Communications Directorate.
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