Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is QCEW?

QCEW is the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. The program originated in the 1930s, and was known as the ES-202 program until 2003 when the current QCEW name was adopted. The primary economic product is the tabulation of employment and wages of establishments which report to the Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs of the United States. Employment covered by these UI programs represents about 99.7% of all wage and salary civilian employment in the country.

For more information on QCEW definitions of employment and wages, please see FAQ #14 and #15.

2. Does the QCEW program publish or release the number of employees in a particular company?

No. This information is treated as sensitive information because it was collected under a pledge of statistical confidentiality.

3. How does QCEW employment compare to Current Employment Statistics (CES) and other employment measures?

Please refer to the Comparison section of the 2010 Employment and Wages bulletin.

4. How do I get data prior to 2001?

There are several different ways to get to data for earlier periods.

    For SIC data:

  • Data prior to 1975 are not available from BLS in machine-readable versions. Data for that period was published in a quarterly Employment and Wage peridocial.
  • Data from 1975 to 2000 (classified under 1972 & 1987 SIC) are available in flat files. Select your desired geographical aggregation level at this page. Please refer to the index page for more information on the data file content.
  • Annual average data from 1997 to 2000 (classified under 1987 SIC) are available in an online database.

  • For NAICS data:

  • Data from 1990 to 2000 (reconstructed under 2002 NAICS) are available in these excel-ready files.

For more information on the industry classification systems QCEW uses, please refer to FAQ #17 or the QCEW industry coding page.

5. How do I use a QCEW .enb or .end file?

The complete QCEW program data file is too large to be published via the current customized-table database. The complete set of QCEW data can be downloaded in various formats - ENB and END are two dense data formats used by QCEW. These files can be read by or imported into a variety of data analysis and statistical tools, such as Excel, SAS or Access. Please see the QCEW flat file helper applications page. For more information about the different aspects of these files, please visit the readme page.

Users are encouraged to try the Excel-friendly beta files (.csv format). They contain data from 1990 through the latest period. For more information about the beta files, please visit the QCEW beta flat file link here.

6. Can I get QCEW data below the county-industry level?

The finest level of geographic detail is the county-industry level, as aggregates of establishments classified to varying degrees of industry detail. While the input data are coded with meaningful address locations, the data are generally unavailable at greater detail. The QCEW program is constrained by the need to protect the confidentiality of data provided by employers, and richer geographic detail would threaten that confidentiality. Even the county by industry data cited above is at the margin of being disclosable - approximately 60 percent of the most detailed level data are suppressed for confidentiality reasons.

For more information on suppressions, please see FAQ #12. To access confidential micro data for research purposes, please refer to FAQ #8.

7. When are the most current QCEW data available?

QCEW data are available quarterly and annually (see release calendar), about six months after the end of the quarter. Each release includes monthly employment levels as well as quarterly establishment counts and quarterly wage information.

To receive notifications regarding the QCEW news releases, please subscribe to the BLS News Service, and select the County Employment and Wages press releases under Employment and Unemployment. Please use the contact page to request special notifications and announcements from QCEW.

8. Can I get access to confidential QCEW microdata for research purposes?

Yes, but only under limited conditions. Please see our page on Researcher Access to Confidential Data Files.

9. Why is my hand-calculated total different from the published total?

The most likely reason is the hand-calculated total adds only the disclosed industries. The totals published by QCEW include all industries, disclosed or suppressed.

10. Can I find data on employment and wages for a specific occupation or job?

No. The QCEW program does not publish data based on occupations. The published employment and wage levels only reflect an entire establishment, which may consist of multiple occupations and jobs.

For occupational data, please visit Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) web pages.

11. Why are there sometimes sudden shifts in levels of employment or wages?

Many major shifts in employment or wage levels are the result of various economic activities. Examples of what might cause these shifts are establishment openings or closings, and major establishment expansions or contractions.

Shifts can be caused by changes in the dominant economic activity at a particular establishment. For example, an establishment may make two products that are properly classified in two different industries. The correct classification for the establishment as a whole is the dominant activity. If, over time, production of the secondary product increases beyond that of the initial dominant product, the industry classification of the establishment should be changed. Another factor is the relocation of an establishment from one area to another. In some cases, the QCEW program is not made aware of the changes underlying these classification updates until a significant time has elapsed since their occurrence.

Between fourth and first quarter, QCEW incorporates many changes in the basis of reporting. These changes can be as simple as the correction of an erroneous industry or county classification, or as complicated as breaking a large employer's data into numerous worksite-level reports.

Multi-unit establishments may also choose to report in greater detail after only previously reporting as a single unit. For instance, a chain store may have reported as a single large corporation for years but now reports as having 50 locations throughout the state. When the employer changes its reporting basis to multiple worksites or establishments from consolidated reports, the establishment count of that industry will experience a sudden jump.

12. Why are some data unavailable, or marked as ND, NA, or with a dash (-)?

In some cases, these indicators may represent an industry or area with no reported or zero economic activity.

However, more often these indicators represent data suppressed to protect the identity, or identifiable information, of cooperating employers. Most of the suppressed data are provided by or are substantially attributable to a single large employer. Various statistical techniques are used to limit to the possibility of using published data to derive sensitive identifiable information.

In many cases, suppressions may also be necessary for otherwise disclosable data that may be used to derive sensitive information from another industry or area.

However, published totals of higher-level aggregations, when disclosed, include the suppressed lower-level data.

13. Why are QCEW establishment counts different from those of other programs?

There are two main reasons for establishment count discrepancies between QCEW and other programs. First, while QCEW program only reports the predominant economic activity, other programs may choose to also include non-predominant economic activity as part of its count.

For instance, a metal parts manufacturing factory would be classified under manufacturing. However, this factory may also perform plating on the parts as part of a package or deal for its end-users. Under the QCEW count, this establishment would be counted only under manufacturing, but not plating because it is not the factory’s predominant economic activity or output.

The second reason of the discrepancy is the differences in reporting practices of multi-establishment firms. State UI laws vary with regard to requiring establishment breakouts. Even without legal obligation, many multi-establishment employers break their reports to the establishment level via Multiple Worksite Report. When an employer begins reporting via multiple worksite reports, often after only via consolidated reports, the establishment count jumps.

For more information on establishment definition, please refer to FAQ #20.

14. What is included in employment?

The QCEW employment count is a total derived from quarterly contribution reports filed by almost every employer in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It counts only filled jobs, whether full or part-time, temporary or permanent, by place of work. The quarterly reports include the establishment’s monthly employment levels for the pay periods that include the twelfth of the month.

Because the QCEW data is based on an establishment census which counts only filled jobs, it is likely that a multi-job holder will be counted two or more times in QCEW data.

Major exclusions from UI coverage include self-employed workers, most agricultural workers on small farms, all members of the Armed Forces, elected officials in most states, most employees of railroads, some domestic workers, most student workers at schools, and employees of certain small nonprofit organizations.

For comparisons with other measures of employment, see the QCEW Employment Comparisons page. For more information on employment coverage, please see the coverage page.

15. What is included in total wages?

Under most State laws or regulations, wages include bonuses, stock options, severance pay, profit distributions, cash value of meals and lodging, tips and other gratuities, and, in some States, employer contributions to certain deferred compensation plans such as 401(k) plans.

Covered employers in most States report total compensation paid during the calendar quarter, regardless of when the services were performed. A few State laws, however, specify that wages be reported for or based on the period during which services are performed rather than the period during which compensation is paid.

16. Does the QCEW program publish employment by company size?

The QCEW program produces employment and wage data by establishment size for the first quarter of each year.

Data on employment and job growth by company size is available from the Business Employment Dynamics (BED) program. An alternate source is the Census Bureau enterprise size data from its Statistics of U.S. Businesses program.

For more information on the differences between establishment, company and employer, please refer to FAQ #20.

17. What versions of NAICS and SIC does the QCEW program use?

For detailed information on the classification systems, please refer to our industry coding page.

    For SIC data:

  • Data from before 1975 are coded under earlier versions of the SIC system. There are no machine readable versions of that data available at this time.
  • Data for 1975 to 1987 are classified under the 1972 SIC system. The 1977 SIC revision introduced no significant changes.
  • Data from 1988 to 2000 are classified under the 1987 SIC system.

  • For NAICS data:

  • Data from 1990-2006 are classified under the NAICS 2002 system. (Data from 1990-2000 were originally classified under the 1987 SIC. As a NAICS reconstruction project, the data had been reclassified under the NAICS 2002)
  • Data from 2007-2010 are classified under the NAICS 2007 system.
  • Data from 2011 forward are classified under the NAICS 2012 system.

18. Does the QCEW program have data based on the new Metropolitan Statistical Area definition?

QCEW data for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) for the years 1990 to present are based on the March 2004 MSA definitions. Aside from a few titling changes, there have been relatively few updates to those definitions since the March 2004 release. The next major revision to MSA definitions is expected in 2013. The QCEW program will release data for 2013 and forward based on those definitions.

19. What is a location quotient?

Location quotients (LQs) are ratios that allow an area's distribution of employment by industry to be compared to a reference or base area's distribution. The reference area is usually the U.S. and the reference or base industry usually includes all industries in the economy.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has a Location Quotient Calculator that allows the public to quickly calculate a variety of LQs for local and regional labor market or general economic analysis.

For more information, please visit the QCEW LQ calculator tutorial. Location quotients are also available via the QCEW map application and the high-level county files.

20. What is the difference between a company, a firm and an establishment in QCEW data?

Each of these terms is used to refer to employing entities for which statistical information is collected, and for which statistics are collectively published. An establishment is commonly understood as a single economic unit, such as a farm, a mine, a factory, or a store, that produces goods or services. Establishments are typically at one physical location and engaged in one, or predominantly one, type of economic activity for which a single industrial classification may be applied. A firm, or a company, is a business and may consist of one or more establishments, where each establishment may participate in different predominant economic activity.

QCEW conducts various activities to increase the amount of data reported at the establishment level; however, some firms with multiple establishment may choose to report as a single entity.

For more information on establishment size, please refer to the QCEW establishment size data files, or size definitions. For more firm-level data, please visit the Business Employment Dynamics (BED) program.

21. What is the prevailing wage rate for my area according to the Davis-Bacon Act?

QCEW does not produce prevailing wage rates or Davis-Bacon Act wage rates. For information on the Davis-Bacon Act, or prevailing wage rates for government contractors and subcontractors, please refer to the Dept of Labor Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA) page.


Last Modified Date: January 31, 2014