This section provides some information on the ways Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data are presented. It also provides more information on the users and uses of these data. Because the QCEW is a census, there are confidentiality protection requirements that are different from those which apply to BLS survey products. All QCEW products are evaluated for the presence of data that may provide sensitive information regarding employment and wages reported by a particular employer. BLS withholds QCEW data to the extent needed to protect the confidentiality of sensitive data. Details regarding the methods used to protect the data are not shared so that the protection will maintain its strength.
The QCEW is designed in such a way that it can identify industries by geographical location and link establishments by multiple worksites in order to produce firm-level data. The QCEW has a longitudinal database in which it can link data over time and capture business mergers and acquisitions. This database can also link firm-level data over time using unemployment insurance (UI) numbers.
An inherent strength of the QCEW is its basis in mandatory UI reporting and the built-in potency of that system. For example, each initial claim for UI benefits includes a check ensuring that the employer exists and is contributing to the UI compensation fund. Based on a weekly survey of more than 270,000 initial claims and more than 14 million claims in total, the system ensures complete coverage.
The QCEW is published quarterly, in two consecutive releases, and about 5 months after the reference period has ended. The first release is the traditional County Employment and Wages news release, which presents adjusted data that are never revised, and is available within 5 months after the end of the quarter. Then, about 2 weeks after this news release has been published, the QCEW full data release occurs. Quarterly and annual data included in the full data release are unadjusted and preliminary until finalized with the publication of the following reference period first quarter of data. The full data are available from QCEW database resources at https://www.bls.gov/cew/data.htm. More information about the schedule of these QCEW releases can be found at https://www.bls.gov/cew/release-calendar.htm.
The County Employment and Wages news release focuses on large counties in the United States (counties with an annual average employment level of 75,000 or greater) and their growth in employment and wages in the third month of the quarter and in average weekly wages (AWW) for the quarter. Growth rates are calculated on an over-the-year basis and are adjusted to mute the effects of noneconomic changes. A variety of charts and tables in the news release highlight the counties with the 10 highest and 5 lowest rates of growth in employment and AWW. Another section of the release focuses on the 10 largest counties in the United States by annual average employment level. The release also includes three tables, one showing adjusted employment and wage growth for all counties with employment of 75,000 or greater, a second presenting adjusted employment and wage growth for the 10 largest counties by level of employment, and a third displaying adjusted employment and wage growth for every state.
The tables in the “Employment and Wages, Annual Averages” are published annually on the QCEW program’s website on the same day as the first-quarter full data release is published for the next year. For example, the 2018 Employment and Wages, Annual Averages was published the same day as the 2019 first-quarter QCEW full data release.
QCEW data are regularly updated after their initial release and are not considered final until the end of the first quarter of the next reference year. Once data are final, they are not edited. If errors are found in publications after particular data are released, a corrected version of the data is released along with a note on what was changed. These notes can be found in the “QCEW Notices” section of the program web page.
QCEW program analysts have published a number of articles in the principal journal of BLS, Monthly Labor Review.1 QCEW has also written interesting data stories for Beyond the Numbers.2 Also, QCEW data are often used in the BLS Office of Publications daily graphics-oriented publication TED: The Economics Daily.3 State partners of the QCEW use the data to write features on local areas, to research industry-specific trends, and to promote economic activity happening in their state.
The QCEW has the benefit of a large, dataset in the form of 10.5 million employer reports. Users can easily manipulate the dataset and create interesting, relevant, and useful data. This aspect, unique among BLS programs, gives users the opportunity to create interesting, relevant, and useful new datasets.
QCEW establishment data were matched with data from geographic files of potential flood zones due to hurricanes. (See hurricane maps and tables.) Matching was done for every state along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts and for more than 150 counties within those states. Geographic information software flagged individual establishments as either in or not in flood zones, for a scale of increasing storm intensity. The establishments were then aggregated by flood zone, and maps and tables were created to illustrate which states and counties were at great economic risk due to hurricanes.
In accordance with unemployment insurance (UI) laws, some establishments are not required to contribute to UI, but rather reimburse the UI system when a claim is made. In most states, these “reimbursable” accounts are restricted to 501(c) (3) nonprofit organizations. (See nonprofit data available.) The QCEW flags establishments that are “reimbursables” on its records. These records were matched against Internal Revenue Service data for verification, then compiled to create a new dataset for private sector establishments, employment, and wages for the portion of the nonprofit sector made up of 501(c) (3) organizations.
Nonprofit Data is managed by the Business Employment Dynamics (BDM) program, which is part of the QCEW program. To contact the BDM program, visit the BDM contact page.
If an error is found in a published QCEW data product (news release, data table, etc.), the product is corrected and republished or incorrect data products are removed. Corrected products will clearly note that a correction was made (as possible). A record of the error will be added to the list of BLS errata, and data users who have signed up to receive notifications from the QCEW program are alerted via email. All relevant documentation is updated, and, if appropriate, new webpages are created to document the error and its correction.
QCEW data for the first quarter of each year are published five times. The original data are first released in September of that year and are followed by revisions in December of the same year and in March, June, and September of the next year. For example, March 2020 data are first published in September 2020, and revisions of the March data are published in December 2020 and then in March, June, and September of 2021. Second-quarter data are published four times, third-quarter data three times, and fourth-quarter data twice.
Table 5 in the Design section of this handbook shows the path of data for March 2019 from their initial publication in September 2019 to their final publication in September 2020. The initial published value of March 2019 employment is 146,497,599 jobs as seen in the first column. In the same row, the four subsequent columns are the revised values of March 2019 employment in each of the subsequent four quarters. In the next four columns, the difference between the current published value and the value of the previous quarter’s published value is shown. The final column shows the difference between the original published value and the final value published 1 year later. As shown in table 6 in the Design section of this handbook, the largest revision generally occurs from initial publication to the first revision, as missing reports, including reports of business deaths.4 Revisions occur due to employers responding late.5 The magnitude of the revisions is relatively small, less than 0.05 percentage point. Table 7 in the Design section of this handbook shows the percentage of revision from the original value to the final publication value.
QCEW data are available online via Open Data Access or the BLS Database. Preliminary data are published each quarter, with a lag of roughly 5 months after the third month of the publication quarter. All quarters are considered open for updates until the publication of first-quarter data for the next year. Data are available at the county, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), state, and national level by industry, down to the six-digit level of detail for privately owned establishments as well as local, state, and federal government agencies.
Through its Open Data Access and QCEW Data Viewer feature, the QCEW program provides a collection of comma-separated values (CSV) files, designed to allow third-party programmers, developers, and organizations to retrieve published QCEW data in CSV format. The Open Data Access webpage provides links to QCEW CSV file documentation, as well as to sample code in several languages. QCEW CSV files are organized by industry, by area, and by establishment size class. An industry file contains all the records associated with the industry over a single period. An area file contains all the records associated with the area over a single period. A size file contains all records published within a specific size class for the first quarter of a specified year. All published QCEW data are provided by each set of files. The files contain precalculated location quotients, which are values that quantify how concentrated a particular industry is in a county or state, compared with how concentrated that industry is in the nation.
QCEW's Data Viewer interface uses these same CSV files to build custom HTML tables based on selected criteria.
QCEW data are widely used by federal statistical agencies, BLS surveys, and other public and private establishments as a basis for their statistics and research publications.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce uses QCEW data as a base for developing the national, state, and local area wage and salary components of personal income. Personal income is a major part of the National Income and Product Accounts and the Regional Economic Accounts. QCEW wages accounted for 47.3 percent of total personal income and 94.2 percent of the wage and salary component of personal income in 2019.
The BEA also revises annual estimates according to QCEW wage and salary disbursements data. QCEW wages, which include irregular pay, such as bonuses and gains from the exercise of stock options, are more comprehensive. Personal Income estimates for prior quarters are revised each release. The revised estimates reflect the inclusion of newly available tabulations of prior quarter QCEW wage data.
QCEW collaborates with the BEA to enhance data available on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the United States. How is this possible? In the simplest terms, QCEW is "matching" two large datasets to deliver a new meaningful data. This cooperative research data supplements existing BEA FDI data and allows data users to analyze FDI at finer geographic and industrial levels.
Finally, BEA uses QCEW employment data as a major input for the wage and salary employment component of their National and Regional (Local Area) employment data. Data from this program at BEA can be found by using the BEA Interactive Data Application. Basically, BLS provides QCEW microdata to the BEA during each quarterly cycle of data production, which the BEA uses to inform their employment data for all areas. More information about how this data is used by BEA can be found by directly contacting the BEA helpdesk.
In 2017, BLS began providing QCEW microdata files, via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) so that its analysts could develop a statistical sample. EIA uses these QCEW employer reports to update its sampling frame for the Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS), Petroleum Product Sales Identification Survey (PPSIS), and the Motor Gasoline Price Survey (MGPS).
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses QCEW data as a quality check against data provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This allows SSA to improve its estimates of Old Age and Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and Hospital Insurance (HI) covered and taxable wages and employment for the most recent historical periods. This, in turn, allows the Treasury to make more accurate transfers from the general fund to the OASDI and HI trust funds. For the annual Trustees Reports, this provides legislators and the general public with more accurate estimates of the effects of present and proposed legislation on the future status of the OASDI and HI trust funds.
SSA also uses QCEW data as a quality check against data provided by employers on Forms W-2. This allows them to improve their estimates of the average U.S. wage for the latest prior historical year. Each October, the SSA estimates the annual U.S. wage for the prior year to set the Average Wage Index (AWI) for that year. This, in turn, is used to set automatic adjustments in the contribution and benefit base, bend points, earnings test exempt amounts, and other wage-indexed amounts for the upcoming year.
The QCEW program provides data necessary to both the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) of the U.S. Department of Labor and State workforce agencies for use in administering the workforce security program. QCEW data accurately reflect the extent of coverage of state unemployment insurance (UI) laws. These data are used to measure UI revenues; national, state, and local area employment; and total and UI-taxable wage trends. The information is used as an input for actuarial studies, determination of employer UI tax experience ratings, and UI maximum weekly benefit levels. ETA research using QCEW data helps measure the solvency of UI trust funds. States also use monthly QCEW employment data in the calculation of insured unemployment rates (IUR) for federal-state extended benefits (EB) triggers.
The Census Bureau uses QCEW program industrial classification information to assign industry codes to some employers in their Business Registry (BR). Since 1991, under a directive from the Office of Management and Budget, the Census Bureau has requested assistance from BLS with industrial classification information from its Business Establishment List (BEL). This project is conducted to maintain and strengthen industrial classifications on the Census Bureau's BR, which is the sampling frame for their establishment surveys. The sharing of these codes reduces costs and respondent burden. Also, increased consistency of industry codes leads to greater uniformity in the resulting economic data flowing from the BLS and the Census Bureau at national, state, and county levels. Consequently, the data produced from these agencies using input from BLS and Census Bureau are therefore are therefore of higher quality. For example, state and county personal income estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) will benefit from consistent coding.
The Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program uses the QCEW data as a major input of their Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) data. LEHD uses QCEW data to produce employment, business dynamics, and earnings data back to the 1990s for selected areas, with the most recent LEHD data available for the nation, states, counties, MSAs, and workforce investment areas (WIAs). More information about LEHD's usage of QCEW can be found in The LEHD Infrastructure Files and the Creation of the Quarterly Workforce Indicators.
QCEW data are important for several other BLS programs. Here is some related information about these programs, and how they use QCEW information for their products.
The National Compensation Survey (NCS) is an establishment-based survey used to provide comprehensive measures of:
The NCS also publishes estimates on the provisions of selected employer-sponsored benefit plans. The NCS uses a sample of approximately 8,000 private industry and state and local government establishments, selected primarily from the QCEW administrative records of UI-covered employers.
For more information about these concepts, contact NCS at https://data.bls.gov/forms/ncs.htm?/ncs/cwcconta.htm.
The Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS) is an establishment-based survey and provides information on the requirements of work based on collected data from approximately 26,500 private industry and state and local government establishments. The sample is selected primarily from the QCEW administrative records of UI-covered employers. The ORS program provides job-related information about the physical demands, environmental conditions, education and training, and mental requirements of jobs in the U.S. economy.
For more information about these concepts, contact ORS at https://data.bls.gov/forms/ors.htm?/ncs/ors/home.htm.
Current Employment Statistics (CES) estimates of employment, average weekly and hourly earnings, and average weekly hours are derived from an employer survey of approximately 689,000 nonfarm establishments, selected primarily from the QCEW administrative records of UI-covered employers. CES also uses QCEW employment to benchmark their national and state employment estimates annually. Finally, CES uses information from Business Employment Dynamics (BED), derived from QCEW, as an input in the CES Birth/Death Model, a statistical modeling technique for handling business openings and closings while tracking current monthly employment.
For information on CES National concepts, contact information is available at https://data.bls.gov/forms/ces.htm?/ces/contact.htm.
For information on CES State and Area concepts, please contact State and Area CES at https://data.bls.gov/forms/sae.htm?/sae/790cont.htm.
The Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities (IIF) program operates the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), which provides annual estimates on the rate and number of nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses and how these statistics vary by incident, industry, geography, occupation, and other characteristics. Each year, the SOII selects approximately 230,000 private industry and public sector (state and local government) establishments from a sampling frame primarily derived from QCEW administrative records of UI-covered employers. The SOII also uses employment data derived primarily from the QCEW to benchmark national and state industry-level estimates to current year employment levels.
For more information about these concepts, contact IIF at https://data.bls.gov/forms/iif.htm?/iif/oshcont1.htm.
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) prepares monthly estimates for the nation, private sector, government, and various industry breakouts based on NAICS sector. JOLTS estimates of job openings, hires, quits, layoffs and discharges, other separations, and total separations are derived from an establishment-based survey of approximately 16,000 nonfarm establishments, selected primarily from the QCEW administrative records of UI-covered employers. JOLTS also collects employment data for use in monthly benchmarking to the CES employment estimates. The CES employment estimates, and therefore the JOLTS estimates, are benchmarked annually to the QCEW employment data.
For more information about these concepts, contact JOLTS at https://data.bls.gov/forms/iif.htm?/iif/oshcont1.htm.
The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program provides employment and wage estimates for workers in nonfarm establishments, by occupation and industry nationally, and by occupation and area for more than 650 geographical areas. Workers are classified into more than 800 occupations according to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. OES estimates are available for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 600 metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. Industry-specific estimates are available for approximately 415 industry classifications at the national level. The OES data are based on a sample of approximately 1.2 million business establishments drawn primarily from QCEW and collected over a 3-year period. OES employment estimates are benchmarked to the average of QCEW employment for the May reference date of the estimates and the previous November.
For more information about these concepts, contact OES at https://data.bls.gov/forms/oes.htm?/oes/oes_con.htm.
QCEW Nonprofit Research Data, where QCEW was 'matched' to publicly available nonprofit datasets from the IRS, which allowed BLS to deliver data on establishments, employment, and wages of the nonprofit sector. This product was recently updated, in August 2018, with 2016 research data, as well as with finer geographic and industrial detail—including annual average establishments and employment, and total annual wages at the county level for the Educational Services sector, Health Care and Social Assistance sector, and Other Services sector. Comments on these data and underlying methodology can be submitted to the Business Employment Dynamics (BED) information line.
Beginning in September 2019, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) program plans to end the Telephone Point-of-Purchase Survey (TPOPS) and to obtain its retail establishment frame from the same household survey used to obtain the expenditure weights needed to calculate the index. The change to the Consumer Expenditure Surveys (CE) information will eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies in survey operations, and will result in lower household burden. The CPI program plans to refine the location and address data reported in the CE by comparing the household reported data to establishments in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) business registry.
QCEW data are used by businesses and by public and private research organizations for economic forecasting, transportation planning, industry and regional analysis, impact studies, and other tasks. In addition, many types of media (newspapers, internet, etc.) use QCEW for fact-based content and reporting on local and national industry establishment, employment, and wage concepts and trends. Finally, educational institutions use QCEW data for understanding the labor market, economic research, and career planning.
1 See, for example, Jennifer Cruz, Peter W. Smith, and Sara Stanley, “The Marcellus Shale gas boom in Pennsylvania: employment and wage trends,” Monthly Labor Review, February 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/the-marcellus-shale-gas-boom-in-pennsylvania.htm.
2 See, for example, Paul Ferree and Peter W. Smith, “Employment and wage changes in oil-producing counties in the Bakken Formation, 2007–2011,” April 2013, https://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-2/employment-wages-bakken-shale-region.htm.
3 See, “Average weekly wages among largest counties, third quarter 2014 to third quarter 2015,” March 11, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/average-weekly-wages-among-largest-counties-third-quarter-2014-to-third-quarter-2015.htm; “Sweets for the sweet: employment at gift-related retailers,” February 12, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/sweets-for-the-sweet-establishments-and-employment-of-gift-retailers.htm; and “Hurricane Katrina: a look back at employment and unemployment,” August 25, 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2015/hurricane-katrina-a-look-back-at-employment-and-unemployment.htm.
4 For a definition of “business deaths,” see “Business Employment Dynamics: concepts,” Handbook of Methods (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 24, 2015), https://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/bdm/concepts.htm.
5 Note that the percentage for the first release is negative because the revised value was lower than the previously published value.