May 22, 2022

New Data: U.S. Census Bureau Releases 2017 Economic Census First Look Estimates

From the U.S. Census:

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released First Look estimates from the 2017 Economic Census. The Economic Census provides the most comprehensive and detailed statistics on employer businesses available, and serves as the benchmark for nearly every business survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

The 2017 Economic Census is one of the first Census Bureau programs publishing data on the new 2017 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) basis. While most codes are unchanged from the 2012 NAICS, there were a few industries whose code changed, as well as some industry consolidations and other changes. The 4,374 establishments in the new Research and Development in Nanotechnology industry (NAICS 541713) reported 171,666 employees and $42.0 billion in total revenue.

In 2017, the number of businesses with paid employees increased to nearly 7.6 million, surpassing the 7.1 million establishments in 2012 and the 7.4 million establishments in 2007. These establishments employed over 127.0 million employees with an annual payroll of $6.5 trillion.

“The 2017 Economic Census First Look estimates provide an in-depth look at the economy as a whole,” said Nick Orsini, associate director of Economic Programs at the U.S. Census Bureau. “Future releases will provide data for local geographies including states, counties, metro areas and cities/towns.”

Number of Establishments

  • The Retail Trade sector (NAICS Sectors 44-45) continued to account for the largest share of employer establishments, with almost 1.1 million establishments, accounting for 14.0% of all employer establishments.
  • The Construction sector (NAICS 23) saw the largest increase in the number of establishments between 2012 and 2017, up 116,874 (19.5%) over this period.

The Economic Census provides detailed data for nearly every 2- through 6-digit NAICS code. While this first look provides data at the national-level, later releases, starting in January 2020, will provide local area data. The preliminary national-level data will be superseded by the national-level data released in later reports.

Employees and Payroll

  • The Health Care and Social Assistance sector (NAICS 62) accounted for the most employees, 20.6 million (16.2%) of 127.0 million total employees, and annual payroll, $990.2 billion (15.2%) of $6.5 trillion, of all sectors in 2017
  • The Health Care and Social Assistance sector (NAICS 62) also accounted for the largest growth in payroll at $189.0 billion between 2012 and 2017.

Business Revenue

  • Of the 18 NAICS sectors covered by the Economic Census, the Wholesale Trade sector (NAICS 42) ranked 10th in terms of numbers of establishments in 2017 but first in terms of total sales, with $8.5 trillion.
  • Insurance Carriers (NAICS 5241) reported the highest total revenue of any industry group in 2017 ($2.1 trillion), followed by Petroleum and Petroleum Product Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 4247) ($1.1 trillion) and Automobile Dealers (NAICS 4411) ($1.0 trillion). The nation’s 32,195 insurance carriers employed over 1.6 million workers with $146.1 billion in annual payroll in 2017.
  • Workers in the Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing (NAICS 324) industry generated one of the highest average revenue per employee of any subsector in 2017 ($5.1 million), and this subsector reported one of the highest average revenue per establishment in 2017 ($256.1 million).

For more information on the industries covered (and not covered) by the Economic Census, see Coverage. To review the geographic area changes that will be reflected in local area tables, see Economic Census Geographies. Later data will also be presented by legal form of organization, business size and other detailed dimensions.

Direct to All Economic Census Data Tables

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.