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Economic News Release
CE CES Program Links


For release: 10:00 a.m.	(ET), Thursday, September 9, 2021						USDL-21-1617

Technical Information:	(202) 691-6900  *  *
Media Contact:		(202) 691-5902  *


Average annual expenditures for all consumer units(1) in 2020 were $61,334, a 2.7-percent decrease from 2019, 
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. (See table A.) During the same period, the Consumer Price 
Index (CPI-U) rose 1.2 percent, and average income before taxes increased 1.8 percent.

Nine of the fourteen major components of household spending decreased during 2020. (See table A.) The largest 
decline in spending for these categories was apparel and services (-23.8 percent), followed by personal care products 
and services (-17.8 percent). The 23.9-percent increase in expenditures for reading was the largest percentage increase 
among all major components, followed by a 14.4-percent rise in cash contributions spending, a 3.5-percent rise in housing, 
and a 1.1-percent rise in personal insurance and pensions.

Selected spending patterns, 2020

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 impacted spending behavior among consumer units. Stay-at-home orders affected 
expenditures for retail outlets, entertainment venues, and even transportation providers, as those working from home ceased 
commuting. Some highlights of expenditure changes include:
      --Spending on apparel and services decreased 23.8 percent over this period. The decrease was driven by large 
	decreases in all apparel and services items. The largest decrease in spending was in men and boys’ 
	apparel (-27.1 percent) followed by footwear (-25.1 percent).
      --Alcoholic beverage expenditures were down 17.4 percent in 2020, after a 0.7-percent decrease in 2019. The 
	decrease was driven by alcohol away from home spending, down 43.9 percent, which was offset by an increase 
	in alcohol at home spending, up 4.5 percent. Some of the change was due to a substitution of alcohol at home 
	for alcohol away from home spending, as consumers curtailed visits to restaurants and similar venues during 
	the pandemic.

      --Cash contributions were up 14.4 percent in 2020, after a 5.7-percent increase in 2019. The cash contributions 
	category includes cash contributed to persons or organizations outside the consumer unit, including alimony and 
	child support payments; care of students away from home; and contributions to religious, educational, charitable, 
	or political organizations.
      --Spending on food decreased 10.4 percent over this period. The decrease was driven by food away from home spending, 
	down 32.6 percent, which was offset by an increase in food at home spending, up 6.4 percent. Some of the change 
	was due to a substitution of food at home for food away from home spending, as consumers curtailed visits to 
	restaurants and similar venues during the pandemic.
      --Transportation expenditures decreased 8.5 percent in 2020. This decrease was largely driven by public and other 
	transportation spending and gasoline, other fuel, and motor oil. The 66.3-percent decline in public and other transportation 
	spending was the largest percentage decrease among all transportation categories, followed by a 25.1-percent decline 
	in gasoline, other fuels, and motor oil. Average expenditures for vehicle purchases (net outlay) were up 2.9 percent. Vehicle 
	purchase (net outlays) includes the purchase price minus trade-in value on new and used domestic and imported cars and trucks 
	and other vehicles, including motorcycles and private planes.
      --Entertainment expenditures decreased 5.8 percent in 2020. The decrease was driven by a 51.7-percent drop in fees and 
	admissions. This was offset by a 48.8-percent increase in other entertainment supplies, equipment, and services 
	expenditures and a 21.4-percent increase in toys, hobbies, and playground equipment expenditures.
      --Housing expenditures increased 3.5 percent in 2020. Expenditures on owned dwellings were up 9.9 percent, while 
	expenditures on rented dwellings were down 0.5 percent. The increase in owned dwelling expenditures is due to increases 
	in mortgage interest and charges (+7.3 percent), property taxes (+9.0 percent), and maintenance, repairs, insurance, other 
	expenses (+14.8 percent).
      --Personal insurance and pensions spending increased 1.1 percent in 2020, compared to a decrease of 1.8 percent in 2019. 
	This was driven by a 1.7-percent increase in contributions to pensions and Social Security.

      --Healthcare expenditures were down 0.3 percent in 2020, following a 4.5-percent increase in 2019. The largest component 
	of healthcare, health insurance, was up 3.9 percent, following a 3.6-percent increase in the preceding year. 
	Expenditures on medical supplies (-12.4 percent) and medical services (-12.2 percent) both decreased over this period.

Food spending by size of consumer unit, 2020

Mandated stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and other restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic affected food expenditures in 2020. 
Food at home spending increased in all sizes of consumer units, and food away from home spending decreased in all sizes of consumer 
units. Consumer units with four people had the largest increase in food at home expenditures (+14.9 percent) while having the 
smallest decrease in food away from home expenditures (-23.7 percent). Consumer units with three people had the largest decrease in 
food away from home expenditures (-37.3 percent) while having the smallest increase in food at home expenditures (+0.8 percent).

Spending by composition of consumer unit, 2020 

Table B compares the shares allocated to selected expenditures by composition of consumer units. Married-couple-only consumer 
units allocated the largest share of total expenditures to healthcare (10.8 percent), while single-parent consumer units allocated 
the smallest share (6.1 percent). In contrast, single-parent consumer units allocated the highest shares of all groups to housing 
(40.0 percent) while other married consumer units allocated the highest shares to food (13.9 percent). Married couples with 
children and other married couple consumer units (i.e., those with at least one member who is not a child of the couple) each 
allocated the highest shares of all groups to transportation (17.4 percent). In contrast, married-couple-only consumer units 
allocated the least amount to food (11.2 percent) and transportation (15.0 percent), and the second least to housing (32.7 percent). 
Married couples with children allocated the smallest share to housing (32.4 percent).

Spending and income before taxes by income quintile, 2020

Table C shows the annual percent change in expenditures by income quintile. Overall spending increased in two out of five quintiles, 
with the largest increases in the fourth quintile (+1.1 percent), followed by the lowest quintile (+0.2 percent). A 5.5-percent 
decrease in overall spending in the highest quintile was the largest decrease, followed by the third quintile (-2.8 percent) and 
second quintile (-1.4 percent). Among components of spending, housing and reading increased for all five quintiles. Food, alcoholic 
beverages, apparel and services, transportation, personal care products and services, and education spending decreased for all five 

Average annual income before taxes rose 1.8 percent in 2020, after increasing 5.4 percent in 2019. Income before taxes increased 
within four of the five income quintiles, which are based on the weighted distribution of income before taxes among consumer units. 
The highest income quintile had the only decrease in average income (-0.2 percent), while the lowest income quintile had the largest 
increase (+9.9 percent). The middle quintiles each experienced similar percentage increases in average income (+4.1 percent to +5.4 
percent). In 2020, the lower income bounds for each quintile were: $24,010 for the second quintile; $45,265 for the third quintile; 
$75,890 for the fourth quintile; and $124,432 for the highest quintile. For more information on how income before taxes is defined, 
see the methodology section below.

Table A. Average income and expenditures of all consumer units, 2018-20	
                                                                          Percent change
	Item                                2018     2019     2020      2018-19   2019-20
Number of consumer units (000's)         131,439  132,242  131,234          0.6      -0.8
Average income before taxes              $78,635  $82,852  $84,352          5.4       1.8                                 
Average annual expenditures               61,224   63,036   61,334          3.0      -2.7
  Food                                     7,923    8,169    7,316          3.1     -10.4
    Food at home                           4,464    4,643    4,942          4.0       6.4
    Food away from home                    3,459    3,526    2,375          1.9     -32.6
  Alcoholic beverages	                     583      579      478         -0.7     -17.4
  Housing                                 20,091   20,679   21,409          2.9       3.5
    Shelter                               11,747   12,190   12,604          3.8       3.4
      Owned dwellings                      6,678    6,797    7,473          1.8       9.9
      Rented dwellings                     4,249    4,432    4,408          4.3      -0.5
    Household operations                   1,522    1,570    1,465          3.2      -6.7
      Personal services                      472      489      347          3.6     -29.0
    Housekeeping supplies                    747      766      837          2.5       9.3
      Other household supplies               431      458      536          6.3      17.0
  Apparel and services                     1,866    1,883    1,434          0.9     -23.8
  Transportation                           9,761   10,742    9,826         10.1      -8.5
    Vehicle purchases (net outlays)        3,975    4,394    4,523         10.5       2.9
    Gasoline, other fuels, and motor oil   2,109    2,094    1,568         -0.7     -25.1
    Public and other transportation          818      781      263         -4.5     -66.3
  Healthcare                               4,968    5,193    5,177          4.5      -0.3
    Health insurance                       3,405    3,529    3,667          3.6       3.9
    Medical services                         909      984      864          8.3     -12.2
    Medical supplies                         172      194      170         12.8     -12.4
  Entertainment                            3,226    3,050    2,912         -4.2      -5.8
    Fees and admissions	                     766      880      425         14.9     -51.7
    Pets toys, hobbies, and playground 
    equipment	                             816      821      859          0.6       4.6
    Other entertainment supplies, 
    equipment, and services	             614      389      579        -36.6      48.8
  Personal care products and services        768      786      646          2.3     -17.8
  Reading                                    108       92      114        -14.8      23.9
  Education                                1,407    1,443    1,271          2.6     -11.9
  Tobacco products and smoking supplies      347      320      315         -7.8      -1.6
  Miscellaneous                              993      899      907         -9.5       0.9
  Cash contributions                       1,888    1,995    2,283          5.7      14.4
  Personal insurance and pensions          7,296    7,165    7,246         -1.8       1.1                                   
    Pensions and Social Security           6,831    6,645    6,760         -2.7       1.7

Note: Only selected subcategories are shown; as a result, the subcategories do not sum to their respective 
major item category.

Table B. Shares of average expenditures on selected major components by composition of consumer unit, 2020  
        Item                        All       Married    Married     Other       One          Single 
                                    Consumer  couple     couple      married     parent,      person 
                                    Units     only       with        couple      at least     and other
                                                         children    consumer    one child    consumer   
                                                         under 18    units                    units
Housing	                            34.9      32.7       32.4        33.7        40.0         38.5
Transportation	                    16.0      15.0       17.4        17.4        15.6         15.3
Food                                11.9      11.2       12.5        13.9        13.5         11.5
Personal insurance and pensions	    11.8      11.6       14.0        12.4         8.9         10.1
Healthcare                           8.4      10.8        7.5         8.5         6.1          7.8 
Apparel and services                 2.3       1.9        2.5         2.1         3.1          2.4 


Table C. Change in average annual expenditures of major components by income quintile, 2020
          Item	                         Lowest Quintile Second Quintile Third Quintile Fourth Quintile  Highest Quintile
                                             Over-the-       Over-the-     Over-the-       Over-the-       Over-the-	
                                             year            year          year            year            year
                                             change          change        change          change          change
                                          Dollar Percent  Dollar Percent Dollar	Percent	 Dollar	Percent	 Dollar	 Percent

Total                                        52	    0.2	   -582	   -1.4	 -1,502	   -2.8	    769	    1.1	 -6,731	    -5.5
Food                                       -301	   -6.8	   -460	   -7.9	 -1,205	  -16.1	   -548	   -6.0	 -1,742	   -12.5
  At home                                   309	   11.1	    148	    4.0	   -192	   -4.3	    538	   10.4	    688	     9.7
  Away from home                           -610	  -37.9	   -607	  -27.8	 -1,014	  -32.9	 -1,087	  -28.0	 -2,431	   -35.4
Alcoholic beverages                         -59	  -28.2	    -96	  -29.0	    -72	  -16.3	   -149	  -22.6	   -129	   -10.3
Housing                                     786	    6.8	    965	    6.5	    434	    2.4	  1,278	    5.7	    343	     0.9
Apparel and services                        -56	   -6.8	   -384	  -30.8	   -267	  -17.5	   -782	  -34.8	   -751	   -21.0
Transportation                             -218	   -4.8	   -906	  -12.7	   -614	   -6.3	   -269	   -2.1	 -2,194	   -11.6
Healthcare                                  -80	   -2.8	    196	    5.0	    270	    5.8	     51	    0.8	   -484	    -5.8
Entertainment                                83	    7.5	     13	    0.7	   -280	  -12.1	     94	    2.7	 -1,064	   -15.2
Personal care products and services         -62	  -17.1	    -98	  -17.8	   -134	  -19.0	   -161	  -17.9	   -242	   -17.2
Reading                                       7	   11.5	     24	   38.7	      9	   10.0	     18	   19.1	     51	    33.3
Education                                  -130	  -16.9	   -127	  -25.9	     -5	   -0.7	    -55	   -4.6	   -519	   -12.7
Tobacco products and smoking supplies       -18	   -6.0	     28	    8.6	     -2	   -0.5	    -66	  -16.6	     31	    14.8
Miscellaneous                                 7	    1.7	    -52	   -7.6	    -86	   -9.9	    290	   34.3	   -111	    -6.6
Cash contributions                          101	   15.6	    208	   18.0	    469	   35.3	    696	   32.0	    -11	    -0.2
Personal insurance and pensions              -9	   -1.5	    107	    5.3	    -18	   -0.4	    373	    4.3	     91	     0.5

|                  Coronavirus  (COVID-19) Pandemic Impact                    |
|                 on 2020 Consumer Expenditure Surveys Data                   |
|                                                                             | 
| Data presented in this release reflect estimates collected during the       |
| COVID-19 pandemic.  Due to the pandemic, data collection by personal visit  |
| for the CE program was suspended March 19, 2020. Instead, data were         |
| collected either online or by phone. More information about the impact of   |
| the pandemic on CE data is available at                                     |
|       |
| consumer-expenditure-surveys.htm.                                           | 
|                                                                             |                                                             

Additional Information

Data Products

In addition to expenditures, the CE program also collects data on income and demographic characteristics. Tables with more 
expenditure detail than is presented here are available at Published tables provide 2020 CE data 
by standard classifications that include income quintile, income decile, income class, age of reference person(2), generation of 
reference person, size of consumer unit, number of earners, composition of consumer unit, region of residence, division of 
residence, housing tenure, race, Hispanic origin, occupation, highest education level of any member, and type of area (urban-rural). 
These tables include expenditure means, aggregates, shares, and standard errors.  Expenditure tables by age, region, size, or gender 
cross-tabulated by income before taxes and other demographic variables can also be found on the CE website. Furthermore, a table 
showing results for all consumer units including the most detailed breakdown of expenditures, as well as a table showing expenditure 
means for multiple years is available at Historical published tables for data dating back 
to 1984 and for selected metropolitan area tabulations are also available. Unpublished, but releasable, tables of detailed expenditures 
by demographic can be obtained by sending a request to

The CE midyear tables, which are similar to the annual tables but cover the third quarter of a given year through the second quarter of 
the next year, are available at The most recent set covers 
July 2019 through June 2020.

The CE database provides tools to access historical CE data (1984 onward) to produce trends in expenditures by demographic groups 
of interest and can be found at Documentation on how to use the CE database is available at

Additionally, 1980 through 2020 annual CE public use microdata (PUMD); Interview Survey files, Diary Survey files, and paradata 
(information about the data collection process) are available at The Interview Survey files contain 
expenditure data in three different formats: MTBI files that present monthly values in an item-coding framework based on the CPI-U pricing 
scheme, FMLI files that present user-friendly summary expenditure variables, and detailed data files that organize expenditures by the 
section of the Interview questionnaire in which they are collected. Expenditure values on detailed data files cover different time periods 
depending on the specific questions asked, and the files also contain relevant non-expenditure information not found on the MTBI files. The 
Diary Survey files contain expenditure data in two different formats: EXPD files that present weekly values in the same item-coding framework 
based on the CPI-U pricing scheme, and FMLD files that present user-friendly summary expenditure variables. Documentation of the CE PUMD, its 
conventions, files, sample code, and methodology can be found at

For those interested in learning more about the PUMD, the BLS hosts a free workshop each July providing “hands on” training in the use of these 
data. The event is open to all, but registration is required. See the upcoming events section below for more information about the workshop.


Recent CE-specific articles are available in the Beyond the Numbers publication series at, and the CE Data 
Comparisons section of The BLS Beyond the Numbers publication series provides analyses of topical economic 
issues and long-term spending trends, and the data comparison articles examine CE data benchmarked to other sources. At the time of publication 
of this release, the most recent Beyond the Numbers article that features CE data (November 2020) is “How have healthcare expenditures changed? 
Evidence from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys” 
( Additional 
methodological and analytical articles using CE data will be published in these series as they become available.

The CE program also produces occasional articles for publication in the Monthly Labor Review (MLR) and Spotlight on Statistics series. The 
flagship publication of the BLS, the MLR publishes scholarly articles on many topics in labor economics. Items in the Spotlight series are meant 
to be shorter pieces accessible to the general public. A Spotlight generally includes a series of charts or graphs accompanied by a brief 
explanation of their relevance to the analysis. At the time of publication of this release, the most recent analytical MLR article that features 
CE data (February 2021) is “A framework for the evaluation and use of alternative data in the Consumer Expenditure Surveys” 
(; the most 
recent Spotlight (April 2020) is “Meal Appeal: Patterns of Expenditures on Food away from Home” 

The 2020 Data Quality Profile, which reports quality metrics and indicators for the Interview and Diary Surveys regarding measurement, nonresponse, 
and processing error, will be available shortly after this release at

The 2020 Annual Report, which includes more detailed information on spending patterns, will be published in late 2021. 

For a listing of links to other published reports featuring CE data, see the CE publications page at

Survey Materials

Also available are the Diary Survey questionnaire and a modified version of the computer assisted personal interview (CAPI) instrument used to 
collect the Interview Survey data at


The change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) cited in the text was calculated as the percentage change between the 12-month average CPI-U for 
all items from January to December 2019 (255.657) and the 12-month average CPI-U for all items from January to December 2020 (258.811).

Size of the consumer unit is the number of persons whose usual place of residence at the time of the interview is in the sample unit. Definitions 
of CE terms are in the CE glossary at

Composition of the consumer unit is the classification of interview families according to: (1) relationship of other family members to the reference 
person; (2) age of the children of the reference person; and (3) combination of relationship to the reference person and age of the children. 
Stepchildren and adopted children are included with the reference person's own children.

Income before taxes in the CE includes the following components: Wages and salaries; self-employment income; Social Security; private and government 
retirement; interest, dividends, rental income, and other property income; unemployment, workers' compensation and veterans' benefits; public 
assistance, supplemental security income, and food stamps; regular contributions for support; and other income.

Income quintiles are constructed by sorting consumer units in the sample from lowest to highest income before taxes. The population weight (i.e., the 
number of consumer units within the population that each sampled unit represents) associated with each consumer is summed with those of the consumer 
units preceding it in the sorted set, resulting in a cumulative frequency count. The first quintile includes all consumer units for which the 
cumulative frequency count is less than or equal to 20 percent of the number of consumer units in the population. The second quintile includes all 
those consumer units for which the cumulative frequency count is greater than 20 percent, but less than or equal to 40 percent of the population, and 
so forth. Because there were approximately 131 million consumer units in the population in 2020, each quintile includes over 26 million consumer units.

Some expenditures are collected only in one survey. For example, detailed food expenditures (e.g., rice, round roast, lettuce) are collected only in 
the Diary Survey. Travel expenditures (goods or services purchased on out-of-town trips) are collected only in the Interview Survey. This makes the 
source of these data in published tables obvious. However, some expenditures (e.g., apparel and services) are collected in both surveys. For these 
expenditures, the CE program uses a statistical method to select the source used in publication.

Information on the methodology used to calculate and collect CE data is available at General articles and research 
papers using CE data are in the CE research library at

Upcoming Events

BLS is sponsoring a two-day consumption symposium on September 22-23, 2021, which will feature presentations from outside researchers and BLS staff. 
The symposium will explore how BLS can produce a holistic consumption measure, at the consumer unit level. The symposium will illuminate the challenges 
of measuring consumption broadly at the consumer unit level and will highlight approaches to overcome those challenges through the integration of 
different data sources and imputation. Please visit the symposium website ( for details.

Each July, the BLS sponsors two events, free of charge: a symposium and a microdata users’ workshop (

The CE Symposium focuses on survey methodology, and typically features invited presenters from the CE program, other BLS programs, and researchers who 
are not affiliated with the BLS. The symposium typically meets on one day. Held over three days, the workshop starts with presentations designed for 
those who have never used the data and builds to expert topics. The workshop also features presentations from researchers not affiliated with the BLS, 
who describe the nature of their projects, specific files and variables they use, the problems (and solutions) they have encountered working with the 
data, and any other relevant topics they care to share. The workshop also features opportunities to meet with an expert from the CE program staff to 
discuss any aspect of a current or potential project, general or specific, about which the attendee has questions or concerns.

The next CE Symposium will be held July 19, 2022. The next CE Microdata Users’ Workshop will be held July 20-22, 2022. More information about these 
events is available on the CE website ( Reports on these events are also published in the Monthly Labor Review 
(MLR). The most recent report available at the time of publication of this news release describes the 2020 events 
( Reports on earlier events are 
available on the CE MLR publications webpage ( Reports on subsequent events (2021 onward) will be posted at a later date.

Contact Information

For further information, contact the Division of Consumer Expenditure Surveys, Office of Prices and Living Conditions 
at (202) 691-6900 or by email at Information in this release will be made available to sensory 
impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: 1 (800) 877-8339.

(1)Consumer units include families, single persons living alone or sharing a household with others but who are 
   financially independent, or two or more persons living together who share major expenses.

(2)Reference person is defined as the first member mentioned by the respondent when asked to "Start with the name of the 
   person or one of the persons who owns or rents the home." It is with respect to this person that the relationship of 
   the other consumer unit members is determined.

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Last Modified Date: September 09, 2021