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Measuring the economy

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 12:44 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 12:48 p.m. CDT

The U.S. Census Bureau is mailing nearly four million forms to American businesses, as the official twice-a-decade measure of the economy continues rolling out. Most U.S. businesses with paid employees will receive a form in the coming weeks. The Census Bureau will collect responses until the Feb. 12 deadline, unless an extension is filed.

“The economic census provides accurate benchmark statistics that are fundamental building blocks of economic indicators, such as the gross domestic product, monthly retail sales and the producer price index,” said Thomas Mesenbourg, acting director of the Census Bureau. “Information about the economy available only from the economic census helps businesses plan and grow, and helps guide government policies.”

The 2012 Economic Census covers more than 1,000 industries in all sectors of the private, nonfarm economy. To create a snapshot of the American economy, the census asks businesses to provide basic information on revenue, employment and payroll, and industry-specific topics such as the products and services they provide.

Every five years — in years ending in 2 and 7 — the economic census collects reliable business statistics that are essential to understanding the American economy. The economic census is the only source providing information on industry revenues and other measures of American business performance that are consistent, comparable and comprehensive across industries and geographic areas.

The 2012 Economic Census results will be the earliest ever. Major innovations, such as enhanced electronic reporting software and a Web-based reporting option for smaller businesses, will make reporting easier. These innovations also will shorten the processing time, which in turn will allow the Census Bureau to release statistics in a timelier manner.

“For the first time, we intend to release preliminary results from the economic census within a year of the collection,” said William Bostic, associate director for economic programs at the Census Bureau. “Along with our monthly and quarterly economic indicators, the economic census will provide timely and relevant statistics that will give a good picture of American businesses.”

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