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April 2014

Consumer Expenditure Survey Microdata Users’ Workshop and Survey Methods Symposium, 2013

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Ongoing research has led to suggestions, many of which are being recommended as part of the Gemini Redesign Proposal. These include 1) exploring the use of a single sample, 2) identifying various ways to encourage individual reporting, 3) encouraging the use of records and receipts, 4) boosting response rate through incentives, 5) learning how online components can effectively be implemented, 6) learning from redesign efforts that have reduced respondent burden, and 7) considering the use of administrative records.

McBride concluded that survey programs can benefit from communicating best practices for effectively collecting high quality-data and sharing lessons learned from testing new features and implementing new survey designs.

The Gemini Project to Redesign the CE Surveys. Laura Erhard (née Paszkiewicz) (CE) provided an overview of the Gemini Project, including motivations that provide the foundation for the redesign process. Redesign motivations leading into the current research agenda include 1) evidence of underreporting/reduce measurement error, 2) evidence that the CE is burdensome/reduce burden, 3) evidence that the CE is expensive, and 4) the trend of declining response rates.

In order to satisfy these objectives, certain aspects of the redesign process are restricted. First, the Consumer Price Index requirements, must be satisfied. In addition, although not required, other user needs will be addressed if possible. Moreover, survey data collection and processing costs must remain at or below the current levels, and response rates must be maintained or improved.

The Gemini Redesign process relied on inputs from expert panels, external discussion events, ongoing research, the National Academies’ Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), the Westat independent proposal, and Census staff. It proposes a single integrated sample, a two-interview format based on recall and records, the inclusion of an electronic 1-week diary with paper backup, individual diaries for all household members age 15 and over, performance-based incentives, highly aggregated expenditure categories, and two waves set 1 year apart.

The symposium concluded with a discussion session regarding how the implementation of the Gemini Redesign Project would affect the research of CE data end-users and recommendations on how to mitigate any negative impact thereof. 

Concerns ranged from what assistance CE would provide researchers looking at expenditures with longer transaction times to concerns regarding the distribution of spending, specifically healthcare expenditures to the distribution of observations. In addition, concern was voiced over how perceived respondent burden would impact the response rate. Some of the response was positive, including how the team looked critically at detail, proposed simplifying the survey, and how respondent burden would be reduced through the logical grouping of questions and incorporation of records.

Assessing Measurement Error in CE. The final symposium presentation, by Roger Tourangeau (Westat), focused on developing a specific measure that can be used on an ongoing basis to track measurement error in the CE Survey over time, but recommended a multi-method-indicators approach that consists of three main categories: 1) internal indicators, 2) external indicators, and 3) record-check studies.

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About the Author

Ian Elkin
elkin.ian@bls.gov

Ian Elkin is a senior economist in the Consumer Expenditure Survey Program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Geoffrey D. Paulin
paulin.geoffrey@bls.gov

Geoffrey D. Paulin is a senior economist in the Consumer Expenditure Survey Program, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.