Coming July 27: GDP Statistics Updated to Keep Pace with Ever-Changing Economy

After five years, it’s almost time for another comprehensive update of gross domestic product and related statistics – big events at BEA that can affect decades of data.

The updated figures to be released July 27 will reach all the way back to 1929 in some cases. Numbers will be revised to reflect methodological improvements, changes in definitions, and the availability of more complete data over time. BEA must continually improve and modernize its statistics to keep pace with the ever-changing U.S. economy. Carrying the changes back to earlier years is an important part of maintaining consistent, long-term datasets. (Annual GDP figures go back to 1929 and quarterly figures to 1947.)

This will be BEA’s 15th comprehensive, or benchmark, update of the national income and product accounts. Comprehensive updates come approximately every five years; the last was in July 2013. (BEA conducts annual updates every summer, but they usually cover a limited timeframe. Beginning next year, annual updates will routinely reach back five years.)

This year’s comprehensive update also will include the third phase of a three-pronged plan to mitigate any potential for GDP estimates to contain residual seasonality – that is, to eliminate any seasonal patterns that remain even after data are adjusted to smooth out seasonal variations.

As part of that plan, BEA will release estimates for GDP and gross domestic income that aren’t seasonally adjusted for the years 2002 and forward. This will give data users a new tool for evaluating the economy’s growth, alongside the seasonally adjusted numbers.

The update also will reflect seasonal adjustment improvements to quarterly GDP figures over the past decades.

This GDP update also will incorporate:

  • Newly available and revised source data. Much of these new data come from the update of BEA’s input-output accounts, which are detailed industry data sets based on the Census Bureau’s five-year economic census.
  • Improvements in methodology. In addition to the seasonality plan, other changes include improvements in measuring prices for software, medical equipment, and communications equipment.
  • Changes in definitions. Several of these changes, such as a reclassification of payments made by Federal Reserve banks to the U.S. government, help keep BEA’s data consistent with international guidelines, improving comparability to other countries’ data.
  • Changes in the way data are presented. Some data tables will look different to reflect changes in methodology. But take note: A new name doesn’t necessarily mean a category’s contents have changed. For example, personal consumption expenditures for “Video Media Rental” will become “Video and Audio Streaming and Rental.” And the “Taxicabs” category will be called “Taxicabs and Ride Sharing Services.” These categories already included spending on video streaming and ride sharing; the names are changing to better reflect the times.

For more information, see the April 2018 Survey of Current Business Article, “Preview of the 2018 Comprehensive Update of the National Income and Production Accounts.”

The comprehensive update will be released on bea.gov on July 27 at 8:30 a.m. EDT, along with the advance estimate of GDP for the second quarter of 2018.


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