Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the relationship between the ES-202, Covered Employment and Wages, and Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW)?

Our new name, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), best describes this program, as we are a virtual census of employment in the United States, covering 99.7% of wage and salary civilian employment. This name was adopted in 2003.

The QCEW program is often referred to as the ES-202 program, as it is derived from an obsolete transmittal with that number that was part of the Employment Security (Unemployment Insurance) program.

Before changing our name to QCEW, we were known as the Covered Employment and Wages program, because of our focus on jobs covered by Unemployment Insurance and Unemployment Coverage for Federal Employees.

What data is available on job gains and losses?

Quarterly counts of job gains and losses are available from the Business Employment Dynamics press release and database.

What types of data are collected and reported by the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program?

The QCEW program derives its data from quarterly tax reports submitted to State Employment Security Agencies by over eight million employers subject to State unemployment insurance (UI) laws and from Federal agencies subject to the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program. This includes 99.7% of all wage and salary civilian employment. These reports provide information on the number of people employed and the wages paid to the employees each quarter. The program obtains information on the location and industrial activity of each reported establishment, and assigns location and standard industrial classification codes accordingly. This establishment level information is aggregated, by industry code, to the county level, and to higher aggregate levels.

What is the schedule for release of QCEW data by BLS?

QCEW data are available quarterly and annually. Quarterly data for selected series are released after we complete processing of the quarter, which is usually six to seven months after the end of the quarter. Quarterly and annual data for all series are released approximately nine months after the end of the year.

Is company size data available from QCEW?

No, we do not collect data based on company size. The Census Bureau publishes enterprise size data in its Statistics of U.S. Businesses. We do have size data on establishments. For more information, see Question #9.

Is all information from the QCEW program available to the public?

BLS withholds publication of data when necessary to protect the identity and data of cooperating employers. Since QCEW gets reports from every employer in the United States, there are many cases where QCEW detailed data could consist of a single employer. These data are withheld or "suppressed" in QCEW publications. Totals at the industry level for the States and the Nation include the nondisclosable data suppressed within the detailed tables. However, these totals cannot be used to reveal the suppressed data.

Does the QCEW program provide information on the number of employees in particular companies?

No. The QCEW program does not reveal company information. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data under a pledge of confidentiality.

What types of geographical information are available?

The BLS QCEW program publishes data aggregated for the U.S. as a whole, for States, and for counties, and for a number of types of core based statistical areas (CBSAs), subject to the disclosure restrictions as described in question 3. There are several types of CBSAs defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The most commonly referenced type is the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The QCEW program publishes detailed industry data for all MSAs. The program does not publish detailed industry data for Micropolitan Statistical Areas (MicroSAs) and Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs), which are two other types of CBSAs. However, the QCEW program all industry total data for MicroSAs and CSAs.

Details about the definitions of all CBSAs are available at OMB’s web page on Statistical Programs and Standards. At the time of the last update of this web page, the latest bulletin on this topic was OMB Bulletin No. 07-01. For the most part, the QCEW program uses the version of CBSAs, released by OMB in March 2004, which are referred to as OMB Bulletin No. 04-03 — Update of Statistical Area Definitions and Additional Guidance on Their Uses. While dated February 18, 2004, this bulletin reflects an errata issued on March 17, 2004 that is no longer available online as a separate file.

SIC data on the BLS website for the years 1993 through 2000 are based on definitions of metropolitan areas derived from the 1990 Census. The last set of these are found in OMB Bulletin No. 98-06 (PDF 161K). This includes the introduction of these definitions in 1993, and minor updates in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997. Before the June 2003 release of core based statistical area definitions, OMB defined metropolitan areas (MSAs and Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Areas) in terms of entire counties, except in the six New England States where they were defined in terms of cities and townships. Pre-CBSA metropolitan area data from the QCEW program for the New England States were based on a county concept defined by OMB as New England County Metropolitan Areas (NECMAs). SIC based data for the period before 1993 were based on definitions derived from the 1980 Census issued in 1983, or as modified in the interim before 1993.

Does the QCEW program have data by establishment size class?

Yes. For the first quarter of each year, data are tabulated by establishment size class. The size category of each establishment is determined by the March employment level. These size class data are available at the national level by NAICS industry, and at the State level by NAICS sector. It is important to note that each establishment of a multi-establishment firm is tabulated separately into the appropriate size category. The total employment level of the reporting multi-establishment firm is not used in the size tabulation.

What is the difference between employers and establishments?

An employer can have one or more establishments. A large manufacturer, for example, might have several manufacturing plants, and each one would be considered a separate establishment. An establishment is an economic unit, such as a farm, mine, factory, or store, that produces goods or provides services. It is typically at a single physical location and engaged in one, or predominantly one, type of economic activity for which a single industrial classification may be applied. Occasionally, a single physical location encompasses two or more distinct and significant activities. Each activity should be reported as a separate establishment if separate records are kept and the various activities are classified under different NAICS industries. QCEW collects data at the establishment level whenever possible.

Does the QCEW program have information on the number of establishments within an industry?


Is there any employment that is not included in the QCEW data?

Jobs that are exempt or otherwise not covered by unemployment insurance are not included in the QCEW tabulations. Please see Unemployment insurance laws and coverage, from the appendix to the Employment and Wages bulletin

In comparing QCEW data for different industries, areas and over time, is there anything users should be cautious about?

There are four possible types of series breaks in QCEW series that users should be aware of: industry coding changes, unemployment insurance coverage changes, geographic definition changes, and size class changes.

Industry changes: Since the introduction of 2001 data, the QCEW data have been coded according to the North American Industry Classification System, either NAICS 2002, which was used for the data up through 2006, or NAICS 2007 which will be used for data for the period from 2007 forward. NAICS is the statistical classification standard underlying all establishment-based Federal economic statistics classified by industry. Before 2001, QCEW data were coded according to the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system. QCEW data for the period from 1975 through 1987 were coded according to the 1972 SIC Manual (including the 1977 amendments). QCEW data for the period from 1988 through 2000 were coded according to the 1987 SIC Manual. Due to the differences in the classification systems, data coded according to NAICS are often not directly comparable to SIC coded data.

Most industry definitions remained the same under NAICS 2007 as they were under NAICS 2002. However, there were a few industries with substantial changes. As QCEW data coded to the NAICS 2007 system become available, users will need to exercise caution in making comparisons that span the 2006 to 2007 transition.

In comparing QCEW data that were coded by different SIC manuals, the difference in the SIC system may have a significant effect. Although a majority of industry definitions were the same under both the 1972 and 1987 Manuals, some industries gained or lost scope under the 1987 definitions, and some were assigned to numerically different SIC codes.

Unemployment insurance changes: Effective with 1991 data, employers who operated multiple establishments within a State, began providing their data at the worksite level. Prior to that, those employers provided covered employment and wages data on a "reporting unit" basis. Although reporting units were, for the most part, individual establishments, employers could provide a summary of their employment and wages data for multiple establishments within a county that were conducting the same type of industrial activity. The effect of this change from a reporting unit to an establishment basis is an increase in the number of establishments.

There are some differences among the States in the extent of mandatory UI coverage in their industries. Analysts doing interstate comparisons of QCEW data in agricultural and railroad industries, or of private households, or of State or local government, or of industries with significant non-profit or religious organization involvement should be especially cautious, and familiarize themselves with the variations in State unemployment insurance laws. The Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor publishes an appropriate reference, Comparison of State Unemployment Insurance Laws.

There were very broad changes in unemployment insurance coverage in the private sector through 1972, and in State and local government through 1977. While there is only a limited amount of data available from BLS for those periods, users should be cautious if their analysis spans those periods.

Geographic definition changes: The definitions of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and related areas, such as Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) are revised from time to time by specification from the Office of Management and Budget. In general, SIC based MSA data from the QCEW program are based on either the definitions derived from the 1980 Census of population, if for the reference years 1975 through 1992, or from the definitions derived from the 1990 Census if for the years 1993 through 2000. NAICS based data for the period from 1990 forward are based on the area definitions derived from the 2000 Census. However, there were minor changes to the MSA area definitions in the intercensal period.

In addition to Metropolitan Area changes, there have been rare changes in counties, such as the creation of Broomfield County, Colorado, from pieces of four other counties.

Size class changes: The definitions of size classes were revised effective with the data for 1984. Two categories were changed. For the very smallest establishments, the categories had been "less than 4 employees" and "4 to 9 employees&quot. These were changed to to "less than 5 employees" and "5 to 9 employees".

What is included in total wages?

Covered employers in most States report total compensation paid during the calendar quarter, regardless of when the services were performed. A few State laws, however, specify that wages be reported for or based on the period during which services are performed rather than the period during which compensation is paid. Under most State laws or regulations, wages include bonuses, stock options, profit distributions, the cash value of meals and lodging, tips and other gratuities, and, in some States, employer contributions to certain deferred compensation plans such as 401(k) plans.

How do different measures of employment compare?

The QCEW program is an employer reported measure and therefore associated with filled jobs, whether full or part-time, and place of work. If a person holds two jobs, the person would be counted twice in QCEW data. Programs which measure full-time equivalent positions or vacant positions target a different concept, as do household reported measures, which more typically show number of people with jobs, regardless of how many, and keep track of them by place or residence. The QCEW program, by definition, measures employment covered by Unemployment Insurance laws. In excluding self-employed jobs, and others, it differs significantly from those programs that include that employment. For more information on exclusions, see Unemployment insurance laws and coverage, from the appendix to the Employment and Wages bulletin. For more comparisons with other programs, please see Comparison of ES-202 covered employment data with other series from the appendix to the Employment and Wages bulletin.

How does data from the QCEW program differ from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program?

CES statistics are calculated from data that are received from the payroll records of a sample of employers, and are benchmarked each year using data from the QCEW program. The CES program uses outside sources to benchmark employment for industries that are not subject to UI laws. Both programs use the pay period including the 12th of the month as the reference period for employment.

CES data are available for nonagricultural industries in the private sector and government; the QCEW program also has data on nonagricultural industries, along with partial information on agricultural industries and employees in private households.

Statistics on compensation vary between the two programs. The CES program collects payroll information for private production or non-supervisory workers only; CES payroll is reported for workers who receive pay for any part of the pay period including the 12th of the month. CES payroll includes pay for vacation and other paid leave time and overtime. It does not include bonuses (unless paid regularly), retroactive pay, tips, or the cash value of meals, lodging, or other payments in kind. The QCEW program collects compensation in the form of wages from both the private and government sectors; the wages are total compensation paid during the calendar quarter, regardless of when services are performed. QCEW wages includes the types of payments described above that the CES program excludes. In addition, wages under the QCEW program include stock options and in some States, employer contributions to deferred compensation plans, such as 401(k) plans. For more information, please see the National Current Employment Statistics page.

Can QCEW data be used to calculate wages for different occupations?

No. Aggregate wage information is reported in the QCEW program. The program does not call for wages of individuals or the occupations of individuals to be reported separately in a manner which would permit the calculation of occupational wages. Occupational employment and wage estimates may be available from the Occupational Employment Statistics page.

How can I get notification of QCEW press releases or announcements from the QCEW program?

If you would like to receive QCEW press releases by e-mail, you can subscribe to the BLS News Service. Select the County Employment and Wages press release.

To receive announcements from the QCEW program, please contact us.

I am a researcher. Can I get access to confidential QCEW microdata?

Only under limited conditions. Please see our page on Researcher Access to Confidential Data Files.


Last Modified Date: February 15, 2008