Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: Presentation

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. It can also link by UI number.

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 Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) news release County Employment and Wages is published quarterly but lags the last month of the quarter by roughly 5 months. For example, first quarter, covering January, February, and March, is published in early September. Data presented in the County Employment and Wages release, which are adjusted, are not revised, unlike the fully released QCEW data, which are not adjusted. County Employment and Wages 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, tables, and maps in the release highlight the counties with the 10 highest and 5 lowest rates of growth in employment and AWW. Another section of the release spotlights 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 “Employment and Wages, Annual Averages” are published annually on the QCEW program’s website the same day as the first-quarter news release is published for the next year (i.e., the 2013 Employment and Wages, Annual Averages is published the same day as the 2014 first-quarter County Employment and Wages news 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. Such notes can be found in the “QCEW Special Notices” section of the program web page.

QCEW program analysts have published a number of articles in BLS publications, such as the Monthly Labor Review[1] and 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 9.4 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:

Hurricane maps and tables. QCEW establishment data were matched with data from geographic files of potential flood zones due to hurricanes. 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.

Nonprofit data. 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. 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.

Foreign direct investment. As of the end of 2015, the QCEW and the BEA were in the early stages of developing improved measures of foreign direct investment. The intent of the measures is to identify the number of establishments, the level of employment, and the amount of wages that result from foreign direct investment.

To contact the QCEW program, visit the QCEW website.


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 2013 data are first published in September 2013, and revisions of the March data are published in December 2013 and then in March, June, and September of 2014.  Second-quarter data are published four times, third-quarter data three times, and fourth-quarter data twice. 

Table 5 shows the path of data for March 2013 from their initial publication in September 2013 to their final publication in September 2014. The initial published value of March 2013 employment (132,338,943 jobs) is seen in the first column. In the same row in the four subsequent columns are the revised values of March 2013 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, the largest revision generally occurs from initial publication to the first revision, as missing reports, including reports of business deaths,⁠[4] come in from employers responding late.[5]  The magnitude of the revisions is relatively small, less than 0.05 percentage point. Table 7 shows the percentage of revision from the original value to the final publication value.

Data available

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/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.

Users and uses of QCEW data

QCEW data are used by various organizations for various purposes:

The Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor uses QCEW data as it oversees the UI program.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce uses QCEW wage data for the wage and salary component of the personal income statistic.

The BLS Business Employment Dynamics program uses QCEW data to produce gross job gains and losses, as well as maintain the Longitudinal Database of QCEW records.

The BLS Current Employment statistics program uses QCEW data as a sample frame, as well as an annual benchmark.

The following BLS establishment surveys, censuses, and programs also use QCEW data as a sample frame:  

Occupational Employment Statistics survey

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey

Current Population Survey

Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses

Local Area Unemployment Statistics program.



[1] See, for example, Jennifer Cruz, Peter W. Smith, and Sara Stanley, “The Marcellus Shale gas boom in Pennsylvania: employment and wage trends,” February 2014, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2014/article/the-marcellus-shale-gas-boom-in-pennsylvania-1.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, for example, “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.

Last Modified Date: April 14, 2017