County Employment and Wages Technical Note

Technical Note

These data are the product of a federal-state cooperative program, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wag-
es (QCEW) program, also known as the ES-202 program. The data are derived from summaries of employment 
and total pay of workers covered by state and federal unemployment insurance (UI) legislation and provided by 
State Workforce Agencies (SWAs). The summaries are a result of the administration of state unemployment in-
surance programs that require most employers to pay quarterly taxes based on the employment and wages of 
workers covered by UI. QCEW data in this release are based on the 2017 North American Industry Classification 
System (NAICS). Data for 2018 are preliminary and subject to revision. 

For purposes of this release, large counties are defined as having employment levels of 75,000 or greater. In addi-
tion, data for San Juan, Puerto Rico, are provided, but not used in calculating U.S. averages, rankings, or in the 
analysis in the text. Each year, these large counties are selected on the basis of the preliminary annual average of 
employment for the previous year. The 349 counties presented in this release were derived using 2017 preliminary 
annual averages of employment. For 2018 data, three counties have been added to the publication tables: Cabar-
rus, N.C.; Pitt, N.C.; and Kent, R.I. These counties will be included in all 2018 quarterly releases. The counties in 
table 2 are selected and sorted each year based on the annual average employment from the preceding year.

The preliminary QCEW data presented in this release may differ from data released by the individual states. These 
potential differences result from the states' continuing receipt of UI data over time and ongoing review and edit-
ing. The individual states determine their data release timetables.

Differences between QCEW, BED, and CES employment measures

The Bureau publishes three different establishment-based employment measures for any given quarter: QCEW, 
Business Employment Dynamics (BED), and Current Employment Statistics (CES). Each of these measures 
makes use of the quarterly UI employment reports in producing data; however, each measure has a somewhat dif-
ferent universe coverage, estimation procedure, and publication product. 

Differences in coverage and estimation methods can result in somewhat different measures of employment change 
over time. It is important to understand program differences and the intended uses of the program products. (See 
table.) Additional information on each program can be obtained from the program Web sites shown in the table.

Summary of Major Differences between QCEW, BED, and CES Employment Measures

            |         QCEW        |         BED          |         CES
 Source     |--Count of UI admini-|--Count of longitudi- |--Sample survey:
            |  strative records   |  nally-linked UI ad- |  651,000 establish-
            |  submitted by 10.0  |  ministrative records|  ments
            |  million establish- |  submitted by 8.0    |
            |  ments in first     |  million private-sec-|
            |  quarter of 2018    |  tor employers       |
 Coverage   |--UI and UCFE cover- |--UI coverage, exclud-|Nonfarm wage and sal-
            |  age, including all |  ing government, pri-|  ary jobs:
            |  employers subject  |  vate households, and|--UI coverage, exclud-
            |  to state and fed-  |  establishments with |  ing agriculture, pri-
            |  eral UI laws       |  zero employment     |  vate households, and
            |                     |                      |  self-employed workers
            |                     |                      |--Other employment, in-
            |                     |                      |  cluding railroads, 
            |                     |                      |  religious organiza-
            |                     |                      |  tions, and other non-
            |                     |                      |  UI-covered jobs
 Publication|--Quarterly          |--Quarterly           |--Monthly 
 frequency  |  -Within 5 months   |  -7 months after the |  -Usually the 3rd Friday
            |   after the end of  |   end of each quarter|   after the end of the 
            |   each quarter      |                      |   week including 
            |                     |                      |   the 12th of the month
 Use of UI  |--Directly summarizes|--Links each new UI   |--Uses UI file as a sam-
 file       |  and publishes each |  quarter to longitu- |  pling frame and to an-
            |  new quarter of UI  |  dinal database and  |  nually realign sample-
            |  data               |  directly summarizes |  based estimates to pop-
            |                     |  gross job gains and |  ulation counts (bench- 
            |                     |  losses              |  marking)
 Principal  |--Provides a quarter-|--Provides quarterly  |--Provides current month-
 products   |  ly and annual uni- |  employer dynamics   |  ly estimates of employ-
            |  verse count of es- |  data on establish-  |  ment, hours, and earn-
            |  tablishments, em-  |  ment openings, clos-|  ings at the MSA, state,
            |  ployment, and wages|  ings, expansions,   |  and national level by
            |  at the county, MSA,|  and contractions at |  industry
            |  state, and national|  the national level  |
            |  levels by detailed |  by NAICS supersec-  |
            |  industry           |  tors and by size of |
            |                     |  firm, and at the    |
            |                     |  state private-sector|
            |                     |  total level         |
            |                     |--Future expansions   |
            |                     |  will include data   |
            |                     |  with greater indus- |
            |                     |  try detail and data |
            |                     |  at the county and   |
            |                     |  MSA level           |
 Principal  |--Major uses include:|--Major uses include: |--Major uses include:
 uses       |  -Detailed locality |  -Business cycle     |  -Principal federal
            |   data              |   analysis           |   economic indicator
            |  -Periodic universe |  -Analysis of employ-|  -Official time series 
            |   counts for bench- |   er dynamics under- |   for employment change
            |   marking sample    |   lying economic ex- |   measures
            |   survey estimates  |   pansions and con-  |  -Input into other ma-
            |  -Sample frame for  |   tractions          |   jor economic indi-
            |   BLS establishment |  -Analysis of employ-|   cators
            |   surveys           |   ment expansion and |
            |                     |   contraction by size|
            |                     |   of firm            |
            |                     |                      |
 Program    |    |     |
 Web sites  |                     |                      |


Employment and wage data for workers covered by state UI laws are compiled from quarterly contribution reports 
submitted to the SWAs by employers. For federal civilian workers covered by the Unemployment Compensation 
for Federal Employees (UCFE) program, employment and wage data are compiled from quarterly reports submit-
ted by four major federal payroll processing centers on behalf of all federal agencies, with the exception of a few 
agencies which still report directly to the individual SWA. In addition to the quarterly contribution reports, em-
ployers who operate multiple establishments within a state complete a questionnaire, called the "Multiple 
Worksite Report," which provides detailed information on the location and industry of each of their establish-
ments. QCEW employment and wage data are derived from microdata summaries of 9.8 million employer reports 
of employment and wages submitted by states to the BLS in 2017. These reports are based on place of employ-
ment rather than place of residence.

UI and UCFE coverage is broad and has been basically comparable from state to state since 1978, when the 1976 
amendments to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act became effective, expanding coverage to include most state 
and local government employees. In 2017, UI and UCFE programs covered workers in 143.9 million jobs. The 
estimated 138.6 million workers in these jobs (after adjustment for multiple jobholders) represented 96.4 percent 
of civilian wage and salary employment. Covered workers received $7.968 trillion in pay, representing 94.3 per-
cent of the wage and salary component of personal income and 40.9 percent of the gross domestic product.

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 work-
ers, most student workers at schools, and employees of certain small nonprofit organizations.

State and federal UI laws change periodically. These changes may have an impact on the employment and wages 
reported by employers covered under the UI program. Coverage changes may affect the over-the-year compari-
sons presented in this news release.

Concepts and methodology

Monthly employment is based on the number of workers who worked during or received pay for the pay period 
including the 12th of the month. With few exceptions, all employees of covered firms are reported, including pro-
duction and sales workers, corporation officials, executives, supervisory personnel, and clerical workers. Workers 
on paid vacations and part-time workers also are included.

Average weekly wage values are calculated by dividing quarterly total wages by the average of the three monthly 
employment levels (all employees, as described above) and dividing the result by 13, for the 13 weeks in the quar-
ter. These calculations are made using unrounded employment and wage values. The average wage values that can 
be calculated using rounded data from the BLS database may differ from the averages reported. Included in the 
quarterly wage data are non-wage cash payments such as bonuses, the cash value of meals and lodging when sup-
plied, tips and other gratuities, and, in some states, employer contributions to certain deferred compensation plans 
such as 401(k) plans and stock options. Over-the-year comparisons of average weekly wages may reflect fluctua-
tions in average monthly employment and/or total quarterly wages between the current quarter and prior year lev-

Average weekly wages are affected by the ratio of full-time to part-time workers as well as the number of individ-
uals in high-paying and low-paying occupations and the incidence of pay periods within a quarter. For instance, 
the average weekly wage of the workforce could increase significantly when there is a large decline in the number 
of employees that had been receiving below-average wages. Wages may include payments to workers not present 
in the employment counts because they did not work during the pay period including the 12th of the month. When 
comparing average weekly wage levels between industries, states, or quarters, these factors should be taken into 

Wages measured by QCEW may be subject to periodic and sometimes large fluctuations. This variability may be 
due to calendar effects resulting from some quarters having more pay dates than others. The effect is most visible 
in counties with a dominant employer. In particular, this effect has been observed in counties where government 
employers represent a large fraction of overall employment. Similar calendar effects can result from private sector 
pay practices. However, these effects are typically less pronounced for two reasons: employment is less concen-
trated in a single private employer, and private employers use a variety of pay period types (weekly, biweekly, 
semimonthly, monthly).

For example, the effect on over-the-year pay comparisons can be pronounced in federal government due to the 
uniform nature of federal payroll processing. Most federal employees are paid on a biweekly pay schedule. As a 
result, in some quarters federal wages include six pay dates, while in other quarters there are seven pay dates. 
Over-the-year comparisons of average weekly wages may also reflect this calendar effect. Growth in average 
weekly wages may be attributed, in part, to a comparison of quarterly wages for the current year, which include 
seven pay dates, with year-ago wages that reflect only six pay dates. An opposite effect will occur when wages in 
the current quarter reflecting six pay dates are compared with year-ago wages for a quarter including seven pay 

In order to ensure the highest possible quality of data, states verify with employers and update, if necessary, the 
industry, location, and ownership classification of all establishments on a 3-year cycle. Changes in establishment 
classification codes resulting from this process are introduced with the data reported for the first quarter of the 
year. Changes resulting from improved employer reporting also are introduced in the first quarter.

QCEW data are not designed as a time series. QCEW data are simply the sums of individual establishment records 
and reflect the number of establishments that exist in a county or industry at a point in time. Establishments can 
move in or out of a county or industry for a number of reasons that reflect economic events or administrative 
changes. For example, economic change would come from a firm relocating into the county; administrative 
change would come from a company correcting its county designation.

The over-the-year changes of employment and wages presented in this release have been adjusted to account for 
most of the administrative corrections made to the underlying establishment reports. This is done by modifying 
the prior-year levels used to calculate the over-the-year changes. Percent changes are calculated using an adjusted 
version of the final 2017 quarterly data as the base data. The adjusted prior-year levels used to calculate the over-
the-year percent change in employment and wages are not published. These adjusted prior-year levels do not 
match the unadjusted data maintained on the BLS Web site. Over-the-year change calculations based on data from 
the Web site, or from data published in prior BLS news releases, may differ substantially from the over-the-year 
changes presented in this news release.

The adjusted data used to calculate the over-the-year change measures presented in this release eliminate the effect 
of most of the administrative changes (those occurring when employers update the industry, location, and owner-
ship information of their establishments). The most common adjustments for administrative change are the result 
of updated information about the county location of individual establishments. Included in these adjustments are 
administrative changes involving the classification of establishments that were previously reported in the un-
known or statewide county or unknown industry categories. Adjusted data account for improvements in reporting 
employment and wages for individual and multi-unit establishments. To accomplish this, adjustments were im-
plemented to account for: administrative changes caused by multi-unit employers who start reporting for each in-
dividual establishment rather than as a single entity (first quarter of 2008); selected large administrative changes in 
employment and wages (second quarter of 2011); and state verified improvements in reporting of employment and 
wages (third quarter of 2014). These adjustments allow QCEW to include county employment and wage growth 
rates in this news release that would otherwise not meet publication standards.

The adjusted data used to calculate the over-the-year change measures presented in any County Employment and 
Wages news release are valid for comparisons between the starting and ending points (a 12-month period) used in 
that particular release. Comparisons may not be valid for any time period other than the one featured in a release 
even if the changes were calculated using adjusted data.

County definitions are assigned according to Federal Information Processing Standards Publications (FIPS PUBS) 
as issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, after approval by the Secretary of Commerce 
pursuant to Section 5131 of the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 and the Computer Se-
curity Act of 1987, Public Law 104-106. Areas shown as counties include those designated as independent cities 
in some jurisdictions and, in Alaska, those designated as census areas where counties have not been created. 
County data also are presented for the New England states for comparative purposes even though townships are 
the more common designation used in New England (and New Jersey). The regions referred to in this release are 
defined as census regions.

Additional statistics and other information

Employment and Wages Annual Averages Online features comprehensive information by detailed industry on es-
tablishments, employment, and wages for the nation and all states. The 2017 edition of this publication, which was 
published in September 2018, contains selected data produced by Business Employment Dynamics (BED) on job 
gains and losses, as well as selected data from the first quarter 2018 version of this news release. Tables and addi-
tional content from the 2017 edition of Employment and Wages Annual Averages Online are now available at The 2018 edition of Employment and Wages Annual Averages Online will be 
available in September 2019.

News releases on quarterly measures of gross job flows also are available from BED at, (202) 
691-6467, or

Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice phone: 
(202) 691-5200; TDD message referral phone number: (800) 877-8339.

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: November 21, 2018