- It is a national survey of households done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It has been in continuous use since 1980 and non-continuously for over 100 years.
- The purpose of CES is to understand how families spend money. It is also used to update the Consumer Price Index. It is unique because it is the only federal survey that accumulates data on expenses (like housing, food and transportation) and income by household.
- Information on CES can be found here.
- There are two self-report surveys: Interview and Diary. But the Interview Survey is relevant to child expenses because it is supposed to collect information on reoccurring expenses.
- This survey is a rotating panel survey in which 12,000 households are contacted each quarter of the year.
- Because it is a relatively small sample, it would be difficult to have a representative sample for a state.
- Self-report surveys rely on the truthfulness and accuracy of the data being reported.
- BLS admits that non-sampling error probabilities are unknown.
- BLS also cautions against using their data outside of comparing demographic groups
- Five core issues with using the CES include:
-Self-report surveys are the least reliable because respondents may misunderstand the question, they do not correctly remember, or they intentionally misrepresent the facts for various reasons. Specific instances include:
-Overall, “Results vary depending on the traits and instruments examined, but studies report correlations of 0.50 to 0.70 between self-reports and objective criterion measures.
-Without objective means to verify the data, it is difficult to know whether respondents have over or under reported income and spending.
2. Not accurate for low income groups
-It has been shown that low income families regularly report that their expenses are 200% of their income.
3.Does not clearly separate spending on families from spending on children.
-Because CEX was not intended to measure child costs, it lacks the data for which it is being used. CEX makes few clear distinctions between child costs and adult costs.
-Nearly all of the data is on what families spend as opposed to what is spent on individual family members. In other words, it does not provide a statistical view of what is spent on children and adults in households but what is spent in total on different items of expenditure..30
4. Not representative
-Not representative of Low Income, Non-intact Families In addition, CEX suffers from “sampling” problems. For example, less than 20% of the families surveyed in CEX are non-intact families compared to roughly 30% of all US families being non-intact families. The reason for this under-representation of non-intact families is likely due to “refusal to respond” problem of poor over-stressed, low income, non-intact parents. Even the 20% non-intact families who do agree to participate are likely to complete only one or two of the four cost surveys (incomplete responders). Thus, we can be certain that the CEX is not representative of non-intact families.
-Overrepresents high income intact families. This problem is so extreme that, based upon CEX data , the USDA and Betson both assume an “average family” of two children. However, the median number of children in non-intact families is one child Thus, the CEX under-represents the very group of parents it is used to estimate.