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Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

Fluctuations in Average Weekly Wages

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) consists of a monthly count of employment, quarterly counts of wage levels and business establishments, and a count of workers’ average weekly wages at multiple levels of geographic and industrial detail.

Definition of Wages

Wages are the total compensation paid to an employee. Wages include bonuses, stock options, severance pay, profit distributions, the cash value of meals and lodging, tips, and other gratuities. In some states, employer contributions to certain deferred compensation plans are also included.

How are average weekly wages calculated?

Average weekly wages are calculated by dividing total quarterly wages by the average of the three monthly employment levels and then dividing the result by the 13 weeks in the quarter.

Average Weekly Wages and Employment Levels

Generally, a direct relationship exists between average weekly wages and employment levels—that is, when one rises or falls, so does the other. However, occasionally they move inversely.

Possible Causes of Fluctuations in Average Weekly Wages

Changes in Pay

Changes in pay will cause a change to average weekly wages. For example, if a firm gives 100 workers a $2,000 raise, average weekly wages increase.

Changes in the ratio of full-time to part-time workers

The change in the number of full-time to part-time workers can have an impact on average weekly wages. For example, a large warehouse that employs 600 full-time workers over the holiday season decides they need only 400 full-time employees beginning in January. They move the remaining 200 workers to part-time schedules. In this scenario, overall employment remains the same, but average weekly wages decrease since total wages are lower.

Changes in the ratio of higher-paid workers to lower-paid workers

Changes in the ratio of higher-paid workers to lower-paid workers also impacts average weekly wages. To illustrate, a large company with professional staff working remotely decides to bring everyone back on site. They now need support staff, such as janitorial and food service workers, that are in lower-paid occupations. The addition of lower-paid workers causes a decline in the average weekly wages even though total wages have increased. For a given area, an overall increase in less-skilled, lower-paying jobs results in a decrease in average weekly wages. Conversely, a relatively large increase in higher-paid jobs results in an increase in average weekly wages.


Bonuses come in various forms and can be given for a variety of reasons at different times of the year. They can be given as incentives or as awards. Increases and decreases in bonus pay can cause fluctuations in average weekly wages.

Pay Periods

Average weekly wages can fluctuate because some quarters have more pay periods than others. As an example, when workers are paid on a bi-weekly basis, some quarters have six pay periods, while others have seven. If a worker is paid $2,500 per pay period, total quarterly wages are $15,000 when there are six pay periods and $17,500 in a quarter with seven. When comparing wages for the current year to those from one year ago, the number of pay periods per quarter may be different. One may have six pay periods, while the other has seven. This calendar effect can result in increases and decreases in average weekly wages.


Access QCEW data through the QCEW Data Search, the QCEW Data Viewer, QCEW Open Data Access and Downloadable Data Files, and the BLS Industry Finder.

Additional Information

For more information on the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, please visit the QCEW homepage.  The QCEW information office can be contacted via email or by calling 202-691-6567. Information on methodology used in the QCEW program can be found in the BLS Handbook of Methods.

Last Modified Date: November 17, 2023