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Handbook of Methods Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Collections & data sources

Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: Collections & data sources

For each state, the microdata of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) are the basis for the QCEW report and are fundamentally a byproduct of the unemployment insurance (UI) accounting system in that state.1 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. Along with these accounting reports, employers provide funds for their contributions payable, which finance the UI benefits system in each state. Federal government employers provide statistical reports via the Report of Federal Employment and Wages; these reports contain only employment and wages data, for each employer’s installations within each state. Normally, private sector employers submit one contribution report covering all of their economic activities conducted in a given state. For employers having only a single physical location or worksite in a state, and thus operating under a single assigned industry and geographic code, the data from the accounting file are sufficient for statistical purposes.

However, such data are inadequate for statistical purposes for employers with multiple establishments in a given state or for employers engaged in different industrial activities within a state. In these cases, the employer’s QCR reflects only statewide employment and wages, so it is not disaggregated by establishment or worksite. Although this level of data is sufficient for many purposes of the UI program, more detailed information is required to create a sampling frame and to meet the needs of several ongoing federal–state statistical programs. The QCEW report contains employer name and address information and serves as a sampling frame for BLS establishment-based surveys.


The QCEW conducts two surveys in addition to collecting administrative data. Approximately one-third of all private sector businesses with more than three employees are contacted annually by the Annual Refiling Survey (ARS), and establishments with multiple locations are given the Multiple Worksite Report (MWR). The ARS verifies and collects geographic and industry information about businesses, and the MWR collects employment and wage data about businesses in order to make geographic and industry estimates. Both surveys collect data via paper forms and electronically. Data collection via paper forms uses the services of a private contractor to handle various administrative aspects of the process. Electronic data collection is done through MWRWebARSWeb (for single-establishment employers), NVMWeb (for multiple-establishment employers), and the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Center (for exceptionally large employers). There are three ARS forms: BLS 3023-NVS (for single-establishment employers), BLS 3023-NVM (for multiple-establishment employers), and BLS 3023-NCA (for employers with unclassified industry establishments—that is, establishments which are not assigned any NAICS Industry code). The ARS is designed to collect specific information concerning the employer's industrial activity, geographic location, business mailing address, and physical address. The information is used to ensure that each establishment is assigned to the correct industry and that each address geocodes the correct geographic location of the establishment. The ARS also asks employers to identify the locations of new worksites they have established in the state. If these employers meet QCEW program reporting criteria, then an MWR requesting information on employment and wages for each worksite each quarter is mailed to the employer. Thus, the ARS is also used to identify new potential MWR-eligible employers.

The MWR is collected on a quarterly basis from all eligible (that is, multiple-establishment) employers for data from the previous quarter. The ARS is conducted on a 3-year cycle, with approximately one-third of all business establishments sampled each year. During this cycle, BLS identifies which establishments have changed from one type of business to another and reclassifies them under a different NAICS code. For example, brew pub establishments can change from a pub establishment to an eating and drinking establishment, and because of this change, they are placed on a 3-year cycle. Establishments that are classified into certain NAICS industries and that traditionally do not change industries very often are put on a 6-year cycle. Cemeteries are an example of such establishments. Still other establishments are assigned NAICS code 999999 (unclassified). These establishment are unclassified because the state does not have enough data to categorize them definitively into a particular NAICS code. There are a number of reasons for having insufficient data. For one, when originally setting up the business, the establishment could have left out relevant details. Another possibility is that the state deemed the NAICS code assigned to be incorrect and tried to contact the establishment but did not receive a response. To reduce the number of unclassified establishments, the state surveys them annually.

Readers may find forms and information as follows:


The Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA) safeguards the confidentiality of individually identifiable information acquired under a pledge of confidentiality for exclusively statistical purposes. CIPSEA limits access of such information to authorized individuals with a need to know and levies fines and penalties for any knowing and willful disclosure of individually identifiable information by any BLS officer, employee, or agent. BLS policy on the confidential nature of respondent identifiable information (RII) states, “RII acquired or maintained by the BLS for exclusively statistical purposes and under a pledge of confidentiality shall be treated in a manner that ensures the information will be used only for statistical purposes and will be accessible only to authorized individuals with a need-to-know.” This policy remains in effect; however, the extent of confidentiality maintained within each state varies in accordance with the laws of that state. Accordingly, the statement on the ARS and MWR forms make no promise of confidentiality. However, once the QCEW data are furnished to BLS and are in its possession, the data are considered confidential and are covered by CIPSEA. BLS considers the maintenance of the confidentiality of data collected under a pledge of confidentiality to be critical to QCEW program integrity.

Authorization and participation 

The ARS and the MWR are authorized by federal law 29 U.S.C. 2. Although employer cooperation is not required by federal law, 28 states have laws that mandate the completion of the ARS.2 And, 30 states have laws that mandate the completion of the MWR.3 To encourage respondents to report their information, states offering them a number of ways to submit their data. By thus allowing respondents several reporting options, states are able to relieve some of the burden from the respondents.

States are required to attain a 70-percent response rate to the ARS for the establishments they survey or an 80-percent response rate among employees in those establishments. The ARS website email “blast” prior to the first (hardcopy) mailing (to 2012 ARS Web respondents), an ARS one-page letter prior to the first mailing, follow-up mailings of the ARS and MWR forms and cover letters to non-respondents to the first mailing, and ARSWeb and MWRWeb email solicitations to any non-respondents whose email address is on file, as well as telephone contact of key non-respondents, are used to increase response rates. State agencies use specific techniques for converting nonparticipants to participants and for partial collection. Another technique is to assign codes to establishments that fail to respond after extensive follow-up efforts. The codes assigned are NAICS codes based on (1) their distribution across other establishments with the same NAICS codes and (2) other characteristics. States may review system-assigned NAICS codes and may overlay them with codes they have assigned.

Quality control and validation 

As data are collected through the ARS and MWR surveys, quality control procedures ensure that the information collected is accurate. These procedures include follow-up of all nonrespondents and validation of all edit failures, which are incorporated into the design of the QCEW. Edit failures occur when State systems kick back any discrepancy in the data and state staff must resolve or bypass the discrepancy manually before the data can be saved. The states and the BLS regional offices also receive both training in industry coding and procedural assistance in conducting the survey. Regional offices conduct yearly quality assurance reviews in each state that is under their jurisdiction. States and regional offices receive training specifically in areas of industry coding and survey procedures in order to promote consistency within the states. Consistency ensures that all states code industries in a similar manner. The procedural assistance that states and regional offices receive is in the area of how to administer the survey. Included are protocols for suggestions on how to increase response rates (for example, certain telephone guidelines may be issued regarding the most effective way to turn a refusal into compliance) and how to maintain quality assurance (how to deal with edit failures and why edit failures occur).

There is an auto check for respondents who complete the MWR online. If wages are too high or too low, or if employment has changed drastically from the previous month or quarter, then the system asks the respondents, in real time, the reason for the change. Other, similar automated checks are in place in the state systems when the respondent enters data. MWR respondents are unable to save the data unless the checks are overridden or amended.

Industries that are hard to measure or reach have specific protocols in place as well. Guidelines are given to states for the most effective ways to reach companies in such industries and, once contact is made, how to ask them for their information most effectively. For example, when companies are unable to be reached, looking at what they do on their website helps. However, when what the website says is unclear, another idea is to look at which positions the companies are recruiting for. This method usually helps with companies in scientific and engineering industries, because the position descriptions listed reveal what type of specific work the company does. There are many more ways of canvassing companies for information as well.


1 Included in the QCEW microdata are data for U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. For simplicity, they are referred to as states in this document.

2 The Annual Refiling Survey (ARS) is mandatory for the following states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina (mandatory only for employers with more than 21 employees), Utah, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and West Virginia.

3 The Multiple Worksite Report (MWR) is mandatory for the following states: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and West Virginia.

Last Modified Date: November 18, 2021