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Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

Questions and Answers (Q&A)

QCEW Data Overview

  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 97% of all wage and salary civilian employment in the country.

      Click on employment and wages for more information about these QCEW concepts.

  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?

Data File Accessibility

  1. How do I get data prior to 2001?
    • There are several different ways to get to data for earlier periods.

      • For data prior to 1975:
        • Data prior to 1975 are not available from BLS in machine-readable versions. Data from 1938 through 1974 are available in paper copy versions through the Federal Depository Libraries. BLS data for that period was published at the national and state level for major industry groups only.
      • For SIC data:
        • Data from 1975 to 2000 (classified under 1972 & 1987 SIC) are available in several formats from data files on our web site. See our data guide for details.
        • Annual average data from 1997 to 2000 (classified under 1987 SIC) are available from our online database. They are accessible via several tools.
      • For NAICS data:
        • Data from 1990 to 2000 (reconstructed under the 2002 version of NAICS) are available in several formats from data files on our web site. See our data guide for details.
        • Data from 1975 to 1989 has not been reconstructed under NAICS. However, the all industry totals, are logically the same regardless of classification systems, so files that contain only the all industry totals that use the same format and coding as the NAICS coded data for 1990 forward have been created, and are accessible from the same location as the 1990 forward data.

      For more information on the industry classification systems QCEW uses, refer to the QCEW industry coding page.

      Additionally, information on historical data availability from QCEW database tools can be found on the QCEW Data Availability page.

  2. 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 data guide page.

      These data are also available in the .csv format which is more familiar for many users. Again, see the data guide for details.

  3. 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.

      Go to Confidentiality and data disclosure for more information on suppression concepts. To access confidential micro data for research purposes, please refer to our researcher access page.

  4. When are the most current QCEW data available?
    • Beginning in the 4th quarter of 2017, QCEW accelerated the publication of its news release, available now 2 weeks before the full data release for all areas and industries. BLS has changed the release schedule for two reasons. The first is to share QCEW data for all states faster. The second is to release the data before the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) publishes quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data, which uses the most recent QCEW wage data. More information about this can be found on this page.

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

      Quarterly and Annual data are preliminary (denoted with a 'p' in the production database output) during the current reference year, then finalized with the publication of the following year's first quarter of data. Please note that revisions between preliminary and final data are usually minor in QCEW.

      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.

      NOTE: For information on historical data availability from QCEW database tools, go to the QCEW Data Availability page.

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

Understanding QCEW Data

  1. Why is my hand-calculated total different from the published total?
    • There are two common reasons for users to see such differences.

      • The user's hand-calculated total adds only the disclosed industries. The totals published by QCEW include all industries, whether disclosed or suppressed. On this page, please refer to Question #13 for more information on suppression, and Question #14 for details on confidentiality and data disclosure.
      • The user has calculated a sum of annual averaged components, as contrasted with our calculation of the annual averages by summing monthly or quarterly components and then calculating the annual averages from those sums.
  2. 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, visit Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) web pages.

  3. 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 incorporating the changes large employers make when reporting data for numerous worksites.

      Multi-unit employers 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.

  4. Why did a large portion of Oregon's employment and wages shift from state universities to local universities?
    • Prior to first quarter 2016, public universities in the state of Oregon were classified in QCEW under state government ownership. Beginning with data for first quarter 2016, QCEW classifies these establishments in local government ownership. The industry classification for these institutions has not changed.

      This change in ownership resulted from the passage in 2011 and 2013 of state legislation which created a new legal entity called "universities with governing boards." Public universities in Oregon were reorganized in 2014 and 2015 under this new legal entity. They are now independent public bodies that can establish their budgets without state approval. This new political subdivision will be classified under local government ownership.

      Oregon Senate Bills (SB) 242 and 270 enacted this change. SB 242, passed in 2011, created a means for public universities to establish governing boards. SB 270, passed in 2013, designated Oregon's public universities as universities with governing boards.

      The ownership of these universities transferred from the state to the new entity. Universities are no longer subject to most of the rules and regulations that control state government units and they can now set their own budgets, set their own employment levels, and solicit funding from nongovernmental entities. These universities also have the option of paying into the Local Government Employee Benefit Trust Fund to cover their Unemployment Insurance needs.

      For more information, contact the Oregon Labor Market Information group at

  5. 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, in many cases 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. For more details on these concepts, see FAQ #14.

      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.

      Additionally, here are some general guidelines for understanding disclosure codes and related ideas in the data:

      2004-forward QCEW CSV Files

      • A dash "-" means the macro cell field (data point combining area/ownership/industry) does not exist for that specific quarter and year. The dash "-" is a placeholder, because in another quarter, data may exist in that year. The placeholder makes the file easier to use with some applications.
      • Cells that don't exist don't need to be suppressed, as they do not exist on the files.
      • Suppressed data fields are published with an "N" in the disclosure code field. Only establishment counts are disclosed for these cells, based on approval from this Federal Register Notice, while all other data items for the cell are suppressed (zero-filled).
      • For Location quotients (LQ) and Over-The-Year Changes (OTYCH), which are made up of several component series, if any one of the components is not available, the affected LQ/OTYCH is set to zero, and an "N" is placed in the LQ/OTYCH disclosure field. Establishment count LQs and OTYCHs will still be available on these files.

      2001-2003 QCEW CSV Files

      • A dash "-" means the macro cell does not exist for that specific quarter and year.
      • Cells that don't exist don't need to be suppressed, as they do not exist on the files.
      • Suppressed data fields are published with an "N" in the disclosure code field. All data items for these cells are unavailable (zero-filled).
      • For Location quotients (LQ) and Over-The-Year Changes (OTYCH), if any one of the components is not available, the affected LQ/OTYCH is set to zero, and an "N" is placed in the LQ/OTYCH disclosure field. (Please note that there are no LQs/OTYCHs on the 2001 files, due to the switch from SIC to NAICS as the official industry classification system of record in QCEW in 2001.)

      1990-2000 QCEW NAICS-Based CSV Files

      • A dash "-" means the macro cell does not exist or was suppressed for that specific quarter and year. If there are four quarters of that macro cell in a given year with dashes, that macro cell was published in the annual averages for that year, but no quarterly data is available in that year.
      • Cells that don't exist don't need to be suppressed, as they do not exist on the files.
      • Most suppressed cells were not included in these files. The NAICS-based data files from 1990 to 2000 were re-constructed from data originally published under the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. All data items for these cells are unavailable (zero-filled).
      • For Location quotients (LQ) and Over-The-Year Changes (OTYCH), if any one of the components is not available, the affected LQ/OTYCH is set to zero, and an "N" is placed in the LQ/OTYCH disclosure field. (Please note that there are no LQs/OTYCHs on the 1990 files, due to the crosswalk of this data from SIC to NAICS beginning in 1990- thus no NAICS data in 1989 to use for this comparison.)

      1975-1990 QCEW NAICS-Based CSV Files and 1975-2000 SIC-Based Data CSV Files

      • A dash "-" would mean the macro cell does not exist for that specific quarter and year, but dashes should not exist on these files.
      • Cells that don't exist don't need to be suppressed, as they do not exist on the files.
      • An "N" means the macro cell was suppressed for that specific quarter and year. All data items for these cells are unavailable (zero-filled).
      • For the NAICS-Based Files- Location quotients (LQ) and Over-The-Year Changes (OTYCH), if any one of the components is not available, the affected LQ/OTYCH is set to zero, and an "N" is placed in the LQ/OTYCH disclosure field. LQs and OTYCHs are not available on the SIC-based Data Files. (Please note that there are no LQs/OTYCHs on the 1990 NAICS-based files and 1975 SIC-based files, due to the crosswalk of this data from SIC to NAICS beginning in 1990- thus no NAICS data in 1989 to use for this comparison, and there being no LQ/OTYCH data on the SIC-based files.)
    • NOTE: QCEW prioritizes counties over MSAs

      This can affect the availability of QCEW MSA data, regardless of size. If there is a county suppression within the MSA then we have to withhold data for either another county or the MSA. This prevents discovery by subtracting the remaining counties from the MSA. This is often why an MSA value will be withheld.

      For more information about this issue, please refer to the documents linked in FAQ#14.

  6. What are the QCEW concepts related to confidentiality and data disclosure?
    • In accordance with the BLS Confidentiality policy, data reported under a promise of confidentiality are published in a way so as to protect the identifiable information of respondents. BLS withholds the publication of UI-covered employment and wage data for any industry level when necessary to protect the identity of employers. Totals at the industry level for the states and the nation include the undisclosed data suppressed within the detailed tables without revealing those data. QCEW confidentiality concepts and practices are largely based on the Statistical Policy Working Paper 22 (PDF) developed by the Federal Committee on Statistical Methods.

      For more information about Confidentiality concepts, as it relates to QCEW data disclosure, please see this document about Confidentiality and Data Disclosure.

  7. 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.

      Click on establishments for more information about what are QCEW worksites.

  8. How does QCEW handle for missing employer reports?
    • Although BLS receives QCEW files from all 53 entities in a timely manner, the files contain estimates for missing respondents. Information about this process is available on the QCEW Imputation Methodology page.

    • As an additional related note- the primary source for the QCEW is administrative data from state unemployment insurance (UI) programs. The states receive a Quarterly Contributions Report (QCR) from all private sector employers, as well as from state and local governments covered under the UI program. Federal government employers provide statistical reports via the Report of Federal Employment and Wages (RFEW). Reporting rates are calculated at the QCR and RFEW level. For tables and information related to employer reporting rates in QCEW, go to the QCEW Reporting Rates page.

QCEW Definitions

  1. 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 more information on employment concepts:

      • For comparisons with other measures of employment, see the QCEW Employment Comparisons page.
      • For more information on employment coverage, please see the QCEW Coverage page.
      • For more information about employment exclusions, go to the QCEW Employment page.

      NOTE: QCEW includes about half of the U.S. agricultural sector. Agricultural (farm) employment and wage data can be found in NAICS 111 Crop Production, 112 Animal Production and Aquaculture, 1151 Support Activities for Crop Production, and 1152 Support Activities for Animal Production. QCEW data for these industries can be retrieved easily using the QCEW Data Viewer, Open Data Access, or via Downloadable Data Files.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 Question #23 on this page.

  4. 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 data prior to 1975:
      • There are no machine readable versions of that data available at this time. For QCEW data prior to 1975, please contact your local Federal Depository Libraries.

        • Data from 1938 to 1941 are classified under the 1939 Social Security Board Industrial Classification Code.
        • Data from 1942 to 1946 are classified under the 1942 Social Security Board Industrial Classification Code.
        • Data from 1947 to 1957 are classified under the 1942 Social Security Board Industrial Classification Code for non-manufacturing industries and under the 1945 SIC system for manufacturing industries.
        • Data from 1958 to 1963 are classified under the 1957 SIC system.
        • Data from 1964 to 1967 are classified as amended by the 1963 Supplement to the 1957 SIC edition.
        • Data from 1968 to 1974 are classified under the 1967 SIC system.
      • For SIC data:
        • 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 2011-2016 are classified under the NAICS 2012 system.
        • Data from 2017-2021 are classified under the NAICS 2017 system.
        • Data from 2022-forward will be classified under the NAICS 2022 system.
  5. Does the QCEW program have data based on the new Metropolitan Statistical Area definition?
  6. What is a location quotient?
    • Location quotients (LQs) are ratios that allow an area's distribution of employment by industry, ownership, and size class 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.

      For more information, please visit QCEW Location Quotient Details.

  7. 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.

      The QCEW data that are available stratified by establishment size are discussed on our size availability page. QCEW uses standard establishment size strata for it's tabulations. These size strata use codes and titles described in our documentation for NAICS coded data and SIC coded data. The size code standards were established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in a 1982 directive, The Comparability of Statistics on Business Size.

      For company or firm-level data, please visit the Business Employment Dynamics (BED) program.

  8. What are Taxable Wages and Contributions?
    • Taxable wages and contributions data in QCEW are related to each state’s management of all employers’ activity within the state’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. A portion of each employee’s total wages are subject to unemployment taxation each quarter. A tax rate is applied to that portion of wages, resulting in contributions due from the employer to the state’s UI trust fund. Each quarter, employers report the aggregate of their taxable wages and contributions to the state UI agency. This information is passed on to QCEW. However, QCEW is not involved in the collection, calculation, or enforcement of the direct taxable wages or contributions for each specific employer. QCEW aggregates the received taxable wages and contributions microdata by area, industry, ownership, and size (size data for 1st quarter only) for macrodata outputs each quarter. Taxable wages and contributions data are available via QCEW downloadable data files.

      More information about taxable wages and contributions can be found by using Unemployment Insurance Tax Topic resources from the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (US DOL-ETA), or by contacting the US DOL-ETA Unemployment Insurance office directly. Additionally, for state information related to these topics, please contact each state’s employment security agency, starting with information available at

Other Related Topics

  1. 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: November 21, 2023