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Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: Design

This section is based largely on the 2021 Office of Management and Budget (OMB) clearance of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program.

The sampling frame universe

The universe respondent sampling frame BLS uses for the QCEW program consist of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The data source for these 53 entities is the Quarterly Contribution Reports (QCR) submitted to State Workforce Agencies (SWAs) by employers subject to state unemployment insurance (UI) laws. The QCEW data—which are compiled for each calendar quarter—provide a comprehensive business name and address file with monthly employment and quarterly wage information by industry. The data are available at the six-digit North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), national, state, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), and county levels for employers subject to state UI laws. Similar data for federal government employees covered by the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program (UCFE) also are included.

The QCEW program provides a virtual census of nonagricultural employees and their wages, with about 44 percent of the workers in agriculture covered as well. As shown in table 1 in the December 2019 data release, the number of covered private business establishments (worksites) is about 9.84 million, and the number of covered employment is about 128.27 million. Additionally, about 60,000 federal government, 70,000 state government, and 170,000 local government establishments are covered. In December 2019, the total number of covered establishments is about 10.29 million, and the total number of covered employment is about 150.85 million. The QCEW series has broad economic significance in measuring labor trends and major industry developments, in time series analyses and industry comparisons, and in special studies, such as analyses of establishments, employment, and wages by size of establishment.

The BLS role in the QCEW program is to establish and enforce uniform methods and processes that yield a consistent level of data quality for the multifaceted uses of QCEW data.

The BLS role is to take in raw UI administrative data and:

  • to understand error components,
  • to address each with methods and processes,
  • to reduce resulting error,
  • to yield high-quality economic data, and
  • to create a high-quality sample frame for other establishment surveys.

The improvement processes include but are not limited to: efficiency in data collection from large multi-establishment employers through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI); statistically valid procedures for editing, estimating missing reports and data elements, record linkage and standardized processing systems, training of staff; and quality controls procedures for data review. (See sections 2b and 2c on estimation procedures and reliability for details.)1 After the data have gone through extensive review at the state, regional, and national levels, BLS summarizes these data to produce totals for all counties, MSAs, the states, and the nation by various industrial levels.

Reliability

Since the QCEW is a census, the data are only subject to non-sampling errors. To control for these non-sampling errors, BLS has extensive quality control procedures that include:

  1. improved data collection methods especially for large multi-establishment employers through EDI;
  2. standardized data processing systems that include edits, imputation, record linkages including address standardization and industrial classification coding;2 and
  3. standardized training of staff at state, regional, and national levels in the review of data according to the guidelines provided by the QCEW policy council and stated in official memorandums (available upon request).3

Records that fail these edits are individually reviewed. Respondents are contacted often to validate significant movements or to correct the data.

The three most important initiatives undertaken by BLS to enhance the quality of QCEW data are the establishment of the Multiple Worksites Report (MWR) Survey, the Annual Re-filing Survey (ARS), and the development of a new comprehensive processing system for states use. Two separate OMB clearances are obtained for the ARS and MWR Survey. The MWR survey is sent quarterly to multi-establishment employers for the purpose of asking them to break out their consolidated UI reports to the establishment level. For example, some employers provide data for all of their operations within a state or at the county level; the MWR asks the employer to provide information for each establishment so that all records on the file can be at the establishment level, which is generally the sampling unit for most BLS surveys. This also improves the quality of local economic data by more accurately reporting the location and type of economic activity.

The ARS is conducted annually on about one-third of the establishments on the frame for the purpose of updating the industrial classification, business name, reporting and physical location addresses, and auxiliary status. Establishments with more than three employees are eligible for the ARS. Each eligible establishment is placed into a 3-year cohort using a random selection process.  In order to ensure data quality, state and regional staff are trained extensively in industrial classification coding. Additionally, standardized systems are provided to the state and regions to process the data.

Revisions

For the first quarter of each year, QCEW data are published five times. The original data are first released in September of the same year followed by revisions in the following December, March, June, and September. For example, March 2019 data were first published in September 2019, then in December 2019, and subsequently in March, June, and September of 2020. The second-quarter data are published four times; and the third-quarter data are published three times; and the fourth-quarter data are published twice. Table 5 provides data for the initial publication of each quarter in 2019 to their final publication in September 2020. As shown in table 6, the largest revision generally occurs from initial publication to the first revision, as missing reports, including out-of-business reports, for late responding employers come in. The magnitude of revisions is relatively small; that is, less than 0.05 percentage points.

Data collection cycles

The QCEW program is quarterly, as employers are required to file Quarterly Contribution reports (i.e. UI reports) on a quarterly basis.

Methods for maximizing response rates

Response rates are generally very high because employers are required to file Quarterly Contributions Reports under the UI law for each state. The unit response rates for employment are about 96 percent (table 2 and about 97 percent (table 4) for wages as reporting of wages are required by UI law. The response rates based on total covered employment are about 97 percent (table 3), as the nonresponse is mostly concentrated among smaller establishments.

Growth of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), the direct transfer of data from the firm to BLS, also provides a high level of response and stability. BLS currently collects over 80,000 reports from nearly 100 large firms with about 10 million employees via EDI.  For final estimates, virtually all of these firms provide data by EDI.

BLS initiatives

BLS has undertaken several research initiatives in the control and measurement of nonsampling error. The 1991 Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey’s benchmark employment estimate transmitted to the QCEW revealed a substantial nonsampling error problem caused by payroll-processing firms. The American Statistical Association formed a committee to review BLS procedures and issued a report in January 1994.4 BLS adopted most of the report’s recommendations. BLS also conducted a Response Analysis Survey (RAS) of payroll-processing firms.5 The purpose of the survey was twofold: to identify practices that can affect the data collected by the CES survey and the QCEW (the benchmark source data), and to educate payroll processors on proper reporting procedures. In addition, BLS conducted a RAS of CES and QCEW covered employment reporting.6 The survey identified factors that affected both CES and QCEW reporting within the same firm. Based on these RAS studies, BLS undertook an extensive education program with CES respondents. This included highlighting correct reporting of problem items on the CES report form and the inclusion of special notices on correct reporting in the monthly advance notice fax message. In 2008, another RAS was conducted and an executive summary of the report details the findings of the survey.7

Statistical aspects contact

Mr. Edwin Robison, Chief, Statistical Methods Staff of the Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics (phone: 202-691-6363), is responsible for the statistical aspects of the QCEW program. As mentioned in the above paragraph, BLS seeks consultation with other outside experts on an as needed basis. The QCEW Policy Council, composed of 10 state representatives and BLS staff, has been consulted on the content, uses, and methodology of the program.

Table 1. Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) summary data for 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, 2019 4th quarter (in thousands)
Industry description Number of establishments Employment, October 2019 Employment, November 2019 Employment, December 2019

Total

10,364 149,527 150,260 150,005

Total private

9,303 127,321 127,943 127,781

Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting

108 1,361 1,251 1,164

Mining

33 665 653 643

Utilities

19 548 548 548

Construction

840 7,661 7,575 7,438

Nondurable manufacturing

135 4,812 4,801 4,802

Durable manufacturing

222 7,971 8,018 8,026

Wholesale trade

618 5,894 5,906 5,914

Retail trade

1,047 15,588 16,072 16,150

Transportation and warehousing

266 5,612 5,818 5,944

Information

190 2,842 2,900 2,865

Finance and insurance

503 6,055 6,071 6,084

Real estate and rental and leasing

424 2,322 2,318 2,325

Professional, scientific, and technical services

1,289 9,626 9,684 9,699

Management of companies and enterprises

71 2,408 2,414 2,420

Administrative and support and waste management services

578 9,484 9,518 9,366

Educational services

130 3,038 3,063 3,016

Healthcare and social assistance

1,659 20,325 20,415 20,440

Arts, entertainment, and recreation

158 2,414 2,304 2,320

Accommodation and food services

733 14,046 13,964 13,956

Other services, except public administration

869 4,574 4,574 4,575

Unclassified

171 147 152 156

Federal government

61 2,854 2,861 2,866

State government

71 4,871 4,877 4,854

Local government

171 14,688 14,786 14,711

Note: Industries are categorized by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 2. Percentage of imputed establishments, total private, January 2001–December 2019
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

2001

5.96 5.96 5.99 5.72 5.73 5.81 5.04 5.06 5.08 5.02 5.04 5.09

2002

5.57 5.58 5.57 5.12 5.12 5.19 4.98 4.99 5.04 4.75 4.78 4.82

2003

6.25 6.26 6.26 5.65 5.62 5.70 5.27 5.27 5.29 5.49 5.51 5.57

2004

5.98 5.97 5.98 5.83 5.80 5.93 5.50 5.50 5.62 5.33 5.35 5.45

2005

5.66 5.68 5.74 5.13 5.11 5.28 5.23 5.25 5.26 4.65 4.71 4.80

2006

5.96 5.98 6.01 4.96 4.91 5.01 4.89 4.97 5.01 4.46 4.55 4.60

2007

5.14 5.28 5.31 4.59 4.70 4.78 4.37 4.40 4.45 4.15 4.18 4.25

2008

5.29 5.27 5.33 4.19 4.18 4.31 4.19 4.17 4.24 3.83 3.88 3.99

2009

4.88 4.90 4.99 4.12 4.09 4.21 3.71 3.72 3.79 3.64 3.66 3.81

2010

4.85 4.87 4.89 4.22 4.22 4.42 4.33 4.34 4.56 3.83 3.87 4.02

2011

4.76 4.80 4.88 5.02 5.02 5.21 3.44 3.46 3.59 2.93 3.00 3.12

2012

3.73 3.73 3.79 3.71 3.70 3.84 3.38 3.38 3.52 4.00 4.03 4.14

2013

4.28 4.19 4.27 3.43 3.43 3.58 3.01 2.95 3.06 2.95 2.90 3.04

2014

4.11 4.04 4.11 2.89 2.81 2.95 2.74 2.74 2.87 2.65 2.68 2.77

2015

3.38 3.38 3.41 2.78 2.74 2.84 3.36 3.36 3.49 2.52 2.56 2.68

2016

4.46 4.46 4.54 3.16 3.16 3.33 2.77 2.78 2.87 3.16 3.20 3.31

2017

3.87 3.87 3.89 2.95 2.94 3.04 2.36 2.39 2.47 2.31 2.35 2.47

2018

3.97 3.96 4.02 2.72 2.72 2.82 2.43 2.46 2.57 2.33 2.37 2.51

2019

3.29 3.26 3.34 2.93 2.94 3.05 2.76 2.77 2.90 2.25 2.29 2.43

Note: Data include total private establishments (excluding households) in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data do not include Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 3. Percentage of imputed employment, total private, January 2001–December 2019
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

2001

5.14 5.09 5.10 4.76 4.70 4.74 4.41 4.38 4.47 4.68 4.68 4.74

2002

4.41 4.42 4.38 4.16 4.13 4.24 4.49 4.44 4.47 4.26 4.20 4.23

2003

4.92 4.93 4.82 4.36 4.29 4.39 4.62 4.54 4.58 4.62 4.61 4.57

2004

4.52 4.42 4.35 4.70 4.59 4.77 5.07 5.01 5.24 4.54 4.48 4.49

2005

4.10 4.09 4.12 3.80 3.74 4.09 3.96 3.95 3.83 3.82 3.78 3.79

2006

3.78 3.74 3.75 3.14 3.04 3.06 3.29 3.31 3.28 3.23 3.28 3.27

2007

3.28 3.28 3.24 2.95 2.89 2.94 3.08 3.08 3.10 2.86 2.82 2.87

2008

3.07 2.97 3.00 2.60 2.53 2.68 2.69 2.58 2.68 2.49 2.44 2.56

2009

2.84 2.75 3.26 2.35 2.29 2.36 2.34 2.30 2.51 2.34 2.26 2.34

2010

2.85 2.81 2.79 2.32 2.25 2.43 2.70 2.67 3.09 2.42 2.44 2.57

2011

2.80 2.79 2.89 3.04 2.99 3.25 2.32 2.33 2.41 2.22 2.23 2.27

2012

2.49 2.41 2.45 2.37 2.30 2.45 2.31 2.18 2.29 2.71 2.53 2.64

2013

2.72 2.54 2.62 2.17 2.13 2.28 2.34 2.14 2.26 2.21 1.97 2.13

2014

2.46 2.31 2.37 1.88 1.80 1.92 1.91 1.84 1.96 2.13 2.09 2.19

2015

2.07 2.03 2.07 1.78 1.71 1.83 1.96 1.89 2.05 1.73 1.73 1.87

2016

2.17 2.14 2.23 1.56 1.56 1.87 1.72 1.67 1.84 1.94 1.90 2.00

2017

1.90 1.90 1.91 1.58 1.58 1.71 1.47 1.47 1.58 1.48 1.52 1.60

2018

1.98 1.96 2.05 1.55 1.55 1.64 1.50 1.47 1.62 1.57 1.61 1.71

2019

1.91 1.87 1.93 1.65 1.63 1.77 1.65 1.62 1.83 1.64 1.63 1.75

Note: Data include total private establishments (excluding households) in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data do not include Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 4. Percentage of imputed wages in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), by quarter and year, first quarter 2001–fourth quarter 2019
Quarter and year Total establishment count Percentage imputed

First quarter 2001

7,743,963 4.26

Second quarter 2001

7,752,694 4.24

Third quarter 2001

7,803,541 3.18

Fourth quarter 2001

7,839,471 3.11

First quarter 2002

7,891,412 3.94

Second quarter 2002

7,901,173 3.40

Third quarter 2002

7,935,862 3.31

Fourth quarter 2002

7,973,775 3.28

First quarter 2003

8,013,297 4.78

Second quarter 2003

8,002,961 3.76

Third quarter 2003

8,060,296 3.46

Fourth quarter 2003

8,081,182 3.50

First quarter 2004

8,129,247 4.31

Second quarter 2004

8,133,737 4.07

Third quarter 2004

8,192,688 3.71

Fourth quarter 2004

8,259,088 3.70

First quarter 2005

8,314,712 4.15

Second quarter 2005

8,335,131 3.62

Third quarter 2005

8,407,905 3.65

Fourth quarter 2005

8,464,375 3.13

First quarter 2006

8,542,371 4.39

Second quarter 2006

8,550,053 3.61

Third quarter 2006

8,617,164 3.52

Fourth quarter 2006

8,703,001 3.06

First quarter 2007

8,718,045 3.94

Second quarter 2007

8,720,237 3.49

Third quarter 2007

8,785,200 3.20

Fourth quarter 2007

8,836,877 2.96

First quarter 2008

8,875,359 4.04

Second quarter 2008

8,876,227 3.34

Third quarter 2008

8,918,706 3.24

Fourth quarter 2008

8,943,568 2.99

First quarter 2009

8,878,407 4.10

Second quarter 2009

8,819,252 3.27

Third quarter 2009

8,826,095 3.08

Fourth quarter 2009

8,845,544 2.93

First quarter 2010

8,802,125 3.99

Second quarter 2010

8,769,242 3.53

Third quarter 2010

8,802,038 3.30

Fourth quarter 2010

8,842,899 2.94

First quarter 2011

8,820,545 4.32

Second quarter 2011

8,828,478 4.08

Third quarter 2011

8,876,724 2.59

Fourth quarter 2011

8,921,357 1.95

First quarter 2012

8,951,937 2.89

Second quarter 2012

8,968,693 2.84

Third quarter 2012

8,918,033 2.59

Fourth quarter 2012

8,958,625 3.25

First quarter 2013

8,946,733 3.33

Second quarter 2013

9,003,016 2.68

Third quarter 2013

9,047,292 2.29

Fourth quarter 2013

9,050,707 2.46

First quarter 2014

9,045,619 3.45

Second quarter 2014

9,041,974 2.14

Third quarter 2014

9,092,059 2.17

Fourth quarter 2014

9,149,628 1.96

First quarter 2015

9,178,990 2.69

Second quarter 2015

9,221,367 2.21

Third quarter 2015

9,266,222 2.86

Fourth quarter 2015

9,319,488 1.85

First quarter 2016

9,320,160 3.88

Second quarter 2016

9,371,351 2.72

Third quarter 2016

9,432,306 2.35

Fourth quarter 2016

9,489,189 2.76

First quarter 2017

9,472,782 3.18

Second quarter 2017

9,527,202 2.47

Third quarter 2017

9,532,898 1.89

Fourth quarter 2017

9,591,535 1.81

First quarter 2018

9,618,757 2.80

Second quarter 2018

9,663,973 2.07

Third quarter 2018

9,731,525 1.83

Fourth quarter 2018

9,781,919 1.78

First quarter 2019

9,815,176 2.81

Second quarter 2019

9,857,279 2.45

Third quarter 2019

9,926,960 2.28

Fourth quarter 2019

9,990,093 1.77

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 5. Revisions in published Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data for March 2019, U.S. total, September 2019–September 2020
News release Total records First revision Second revision Third revision Fourth revison Total revisions since first release

March 2019 (September 2019 release)

146,497,599

March 2019 (December 2019 release)

146,513,849 16,250

March 2019 (March 2020 release)

146,514,210 361

March 2019 (June 2020 release)

146,527,125 12,915

March 2019 (September 2020 release)

146,553,073 25,948

Total revision since September 2019

55,474

June 2019 (December 2019 Release)

149,089,158

June 2019 (March 2020 Release)

149,133,921 44,763

June 2019 (June 2020 Release)

149,157,402 23,481

June 2019 (September 2020 Release)

149,191,158 33,756

Revision since December 2019

102,000

September 2019 (March 2020 release)

148,556,525

September 2019 (June 2020 release)

148,655,575 99,050

September 2019 (September 2020 release)

148,701,484 45,909

Revision since March 2020

144,959

December 2019 (June 2020 release)

149,857,130

December 2019 (September 2020 release)

150,005,303 148,173

Revision since June 2020

148,173

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 6. Percentage of revisions in published Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data for March 2019, from original to next publication, December 2019–September 2020
Preliminary publication March 2019 (December 2019 Release) June 2019 (March 2020 Release) September 2019 (June 2020 Release) December 2019 (September 2020 Release)

Percentage of revision from preliminary published data

0.01 0.03 0.07 0.1

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Table 7. Percentage of revision from original to final publication, March to December 2019 preliminary publication to September 2020 release
Preliminary publication March 2019 (September 2020 release) June 2019 (September 2020 release) September 2019 (September 2020 release) December 2019 (September 2020 release)

Percentage of revision from preliminary published data

0.04 0.07 0.1 0.1

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Notes

1 Kenneth Robertson, Larry Huff, Gordon Mikkelson, Timothy Pivetz, and Alice Winkler, “Improvement in record linkage processes for the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Business Establishment List,” In Record linkage techniques -- 1997: Proceedings of an international workshop and exposition, pp. 212-221, https://www.nap.edu/read/6491/chapter/10#212.

2 Official memorandums to the states and regional staff about the QCEW program are available upon request by contacting the QCEW program at https://www.bls.gov/cew/contact.htm.

3 Ivan P. Fellegi and Alan B. Sunter, “A theory for record Linkage,” Journal of the American Statistical Association, vol. 64 no. 32, pp. 1183–1210, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2286061.

4 American Statistical Association Panel for the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics Survey, “A research agenda to guide and improve the Current Employment Statistics survey” (Alexandria, VA: American Statistical Association, January 1994), available upon request.

5 Karen L. Goldenberg, Susan E. Moore, and Richard J. Rosen, “Commercial payroll software and the quality of employment data," Proceedings of the Survey Research Methods Section, American Statistical Association, August 1318, 1994 (Toronto: American Statistical Association, 1994), https://www.asasrms.org/Proceedings/papers/1994_178.pdf.

6 George S. Werking, Richard L. Clayton, and Richard J. Rosen, “Studying the causes of employment count differences reported in two BLS programs,” Proceedings of the Survey Research Methods Section, American Statistical Association, August 13–17, 1995 (Orlando, FL: American Statistical Association, 1995), https://www.asasrms.org/Proceedings/papers/1995_137.pdf.

7 Sally Anderson, Margaret Applebaum, Michele Eickman, Greg Erkens, Kristin Fairman, Jeffrey Groen, Steve Kroll, Chris Manning, and Polly Phipps, “Differences in seasonality between the CES and QCEW programs: results from the 2008 Response Analysis Survey” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 21, 2009), https://www.asasrms.org/Proceedings/y2009/Files/304445.pdf.

Last Modified Date: August 18, 2021