In Praise of the Statistical Abstract of the United States


Students have available to them a plethora of statistical reference sources as undergraduate researchers at Bryant, but one source—the Statistical Abstract of the United States— merits special attention because of its breadth and depth of coverage.  Compiled by the Economics and Statistics Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce, this voluminous annual library of data started with a 1878 print edition and has progressed to become a website freely available to all.  As indicated by its subtitle, The National Data Book, the Statistical Abstract is the best source to start with to locate a span of domestic or international data—from agriculture to banking; government finances to labor; science to transportation, and more.  Students can locate data going back to the original 1878 edition because all of the historical editions are scanned and posted on the website.  The data interval (monthly, quarterly, or annual) depends on the collection period of the government agency, department, bureau or private association responsible for its collection, and students need to be aware that some data, such as that from the U.S. Economic Census, is collected only every 5 years.

The unique value of the Statistical Abstract lies in the fact that for each data chart presented, students can glance at the bottom of the chart to find the original source of the data.  In most cases the original source will have a website available students can access to locate more data or information.   Appendix 1: Guide to Source of Statistics, State Statistical Abstracts, and Foreign Statistical Abstracts provides a listing of primary sources of statistical information for the United States and other countries.  U.S. government sources are listed first, followed by nongovernment sources; the original source of the data is listed, followed by its individual publications.

The Statistical Abstract of the United States makes data identification and collection easy, but after searching, if you still don’t find the statistic you need, Ask a Reference Librarian, they’ll be glad to help!