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 Wages (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) legis-
lation and provided by State Workforce Agencies (SWAs). The summaries are a result of the administra-
tion of state unemployment insurance 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 

For purposes of this release, large counties are defined as having employment levels of 75,000 or greater. 
In addition, data for San Juan, Puerto Rico, are provided, but not used in calculating U.S. averages, rank-
ings, or in the analysis in the text. Each year, these large counties are selected on the basis of the prelimi-
nary 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: Cabarrus, 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 ongo-
ing review and editing. 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 different 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- |  689,000 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 submitted by four major federal payroll processing centers on behalf of all federal agen-
cies, with the exception of a few agencies which still report directly to the individual SWA. In addition to 
the quarterly contribution reports, employers who operate multiple establishments within a state complete 
a questionnaire, called the "Multiple Worksite Report," which provides detailed information on the loca-
tion and industry of each of their establishments. QCEW employment and wage data are derived from mi-
crodata 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 employment 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 job-
holders) represented 96.4 percent of civilian wage and salary employment. Covered workers received 
$7.968 trillion in pay, representing 94.3 percent 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 workers, most student workers at schools, and employees of certain small nonprofit organ-

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 comparisons 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 production and sales workers, corporation officials, executives, supervisory personnel, and cleri-
cal 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 quarter. These calculations are made using unrounded employment and wage values. The av-
erage 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 supplied, 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 fluctuations in average monthly employment and/or 
total quarterly wages between the current quarter and prior year levels.

Average weekly wages are affected by the ratio of full-time to part-time workers as well as the number of 
individuals 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 peri-
od including the 12th of the month. When comparing average weekly wage levels between industries, 
states, or quarters, these factors should be taken into consideration.

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 coun-
ties where government employers represent a large fraction of overall employment. Similar calendar ef-
fects can result from private sector pay practices. However, these effects are typically less pronounced for 
two reasons: employment is less concentrated 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 dates.

In order to ensure the highest possible quality of data, states verify with employers and update, if neces-
sary, 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. Estab-
lishments 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 ac-
count 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 calcu-
lated 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, lo-
cation, and ownership information of their establishments). The most common adjustments for administra-
tive 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 unknown or statewide county or unknown industry categories. Adjusted 
data account for improvements in reporting employment and wages for individual and multi-unit estab-
lishments. To accomplish this, adjustments were implemented to account for: administrative changes 
caused by multi-unit employers who start reporting for each individual establishment rather than as a sin-
gle 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 Employ-
ment 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 Security Act of 1987, Public Law 104-106. Areas shown as counties include those designat-
ed as independent cities in some jurisdictions and, in Alaska, those designated as census areas where coun-
ties have not been created. County data also are presented for the New England states for comparative pur-
poses 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 establishments, employment, and wages for the nation and all states. The 2017 edition of this publica-
tion, 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 additional content from the 2017 edition of Employment and Wages Annual 
Averages Online are now available at The 2018 edition of Employ-
ment 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: February 20, 2019