July 27, 2009

Federal Reserve will soon begin a statistical study of household finances

For immediate release

The Federal Reserve Board will soon begin a statistical study of household finances to update data collected at the outset of the economic downturn that began in late 2007.

The 2009 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) will attempt to re-interview participants in the Board's most recently completed survey, which was conducted in 2007. Normally, the SCF is undertaken on a purely cross-sectional basis every three years. But given the serious financial and economic problems of the past two years, this special study will gather a detailed picture of the effects of those events on households and their finances.

The SCF will be conducted for the Board by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), a social science research organization at the University of Chicago. Data will be collected from July 25 through December 31 of this year.

"It may seem that everything that needs to be known about recent economic changes is already known," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in a letter to potential respondents. "But, we would benefit from a more detailed understanding of what has happened across the broad range of types of households. For that, we need to look directly at changes for individual households."

The 2009 survey will attempt to secure interviews with all 4,422 participants in the 2007 SCF who are living in the United States. Because the re-interview will cover most of the topics included in the 2007 survey, it will be possible to look directly at changes in household finances. In addition, the re-interview will explore several topics particularly relevant for the time since the 2007 survey, including issues related to credit constraints, small business performance, housing, mortgages, and expectations about the future for the economy in general and aspects of the household's finances in particular.

The re-interview will provide a representative picture of changes for U.S. households that were in existence two years ago. The original sample was chosen at random from 79 areas, including metropolitan areas and rural counties across the United States, using a scientific sampling procedure. A representative of NORC will contact each potential participant personally to explain the study and request time for an interview.

The attached letter from Chairman Bernanke was mailed to the sample households urging their participation in the re-interview study. "I assure you that we give the highest priority to guarding the privacy of the survey participants and the confidentiality of their answers," Chairman Bernanke wrote. NORC uses names and addresses only for the administration of the survey. No one at the Federal Reserve is permitted to see the names of the participants.

Summary results from the 2009 re-interview are expected to be available late next year after all data from the survey have been assessed and analyzed. Information from the 2007 survey was published in February 2009 in the Federal Reserve Bulletin at HTML | 383 KB PDF.

Chairman Bernanke's letter

Last Update: July 27, 2009