Written by: Robert Marske, Office of Economic Planning and Innovation
Fifty years ago, President Kennedy said, “Before we can set out on the road to success, we have to know where we are going, and before we can know that we must determine where we have been in the past.”
Knowing where we’ve been just got easier.
Every month and every quarter, 132 times a year, the US Census Bureau publishes economic indicators that report on the performance of the American economy. These reports cover nearly every sector – construction, international trade, manufacturing, retail trade, services, and wholesale trade.
Economic indicators are key inputs to the Gross Domestic Product estimates, prepared by our sister agency, the Bureau of Economic Analysis. These statistics also are important to monetary and budgetary decision makers, economists, business analysts, and economic researchers in assessing the health of the economy. And they are vital to corporate boardrooms looking for guidance on investment decisions or whether to expand.
Accessing and using these data has been a challenge for data users: each report published in a different format, sometimes requiring technical skills to extract and use the data. As a result, some users have looked elsewhere for the data they need.
The Census Bureau recently launched a new tool, the Economic Indicator Database Search. Right now, four economic indicators are included in the new tool: three monthly reports (international trade, wholesale trade, and manufacturers’ shipments, inventories, and orders), and the quarterly services survey. By the end of next year all twelve indicators will be included. We developed the new tool to provide a user-friendly web application — a one-stop-shop for data from all of the Census Bureau’s economic indicators. Easy enough for anyone to use.
The new tool incorporates best practices in many dimensions: it employs a web delivery tool similar to that used by other agencies. It uses state-of-the art open source software. It’s 508 compliant (accessible), and it employs standard file formats for data and metadata so it will be easy to adapt to other applications. An online brochure shows how to use the new tool, including sample tables.
The new tool will have many uses and users. Outside users (business analysts, the press, economic researchers) can use it for quicker access to the data they need for modeling, trend analyses, and other research. As a bonus, the Census Bureau’s own industry analysts are finding the tool makes it easier for them do specific kinds of analysis before releasing the data. That, in turn, means the new tool is improving the quality of the data we publish.
So far, feedback from data users has been very positive — and more important, sharp increases in web traffic over the last few months means more folks are relying on the Census Bureau’s data.
We invite you to try out the new tool yourself. And stay tuned for the inclusion of additional economic indicators in the near future.
Learn more about our economic programs.