Description of Data Used from the Ongoing BLS Consumer Expenditure Surveys
Household consumer expenditure surveys, which represent one of the oldest forms of acquiring economic data, had their origin in a concern with differences in consumption between the rich and the poor in England in the late 18th century. In the 1790s, two seminal budget surveys of workingmen were developed by David Davies (1795) and Frederick Eden (1797). 1 In 1787, Davies, then a rector in the parish of Barkham, undertook a study of the working poor in his parish and began by collecting detailed budgets of six “typical” parish agricultural laborers. He circulated these budgets widely among friends and acquaintances throughout the kingdom and encouraged them to undertake the same. In 1795, Davies edited 127 of these budgets and used them as an empirical basis in a dispassionate plea for a minimum-wage law tied to the price of wheat. Both the budgets and plea were published in the Case of Labourers in Husbandry. Two years later, Frederick Eden, who was concerned with the effects on the working poor of the high price of wheat in 1794 and 1795, published the budgets (using essentially the same format as Davies) for 60 agricultural families and 26 non-agricultural families from various parts of England as an appendix in his three-volume work: The State of the Poor.