Strengths and Weaknesses of Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages From the BLS

Published on Jun 22, 2015

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

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This article is part of series of blog posts that details the strengths and weaknesses of prominent labor market data sources. Find the whole series here.

Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) is a program that is managed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This program publishes a quarterly count of employment and wages reported by employers. For the purposes of the QCEW program, a “job” is defined as a full- or part-time position that is covered by state and federal unemployment insurance laws.

Data from the QCEW program serve as an important input to many BLS programs, including the Current Employment Statistics program and the Occupational Employment Statistics program. The unemployment administrative records collected under the QCEW program serve as a sampling frame for BLS establishment surveys.


  • Because QCEW is based on official government documentation (via state and federal unemployment agencies), the data is highly reliable and is considered the “gold standard” of industry data.

  • QCEW is comprehensive, capturing 98% of US wage-and-salary jobs.

  • QCEW can be viewed at a variety of detail levels, both geographically (by county, MSA, state, or national levels) and by industry level (available at 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-digit levels).


  • There is about a five- to six-month lag between when the initial data is collected and when it is released. The releases occur quarterly.

  • Much of QCEW’s private-sector county level data (approximately 60%) is suppressed to protect the confidentiality of certain local businesses.

  • QCEW does not report on self-employed, military, railroad, and certain farm, domestic, and non-profit workers, among others.

How EMSI Incorporates QCEW

EMSI produces a form of the BLS QCEW dataset. In the EMSI QCEW dataset, employment definitions and coverage are identical to those used by the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the EMSI QCEW (class of worker 1) dataset has several modifications, including the following:

  • EMSI provides informed estimates for suppressed data. (For more on EMSI’s approach to unsuppressing data, read this article.)

  • EMSI alters the NAICS classification of public-sector employment to make it more compatible with other data sources.

  • EMSI transforms the data to use consistent county and NAICS definitions from 2001 to the present; original QCEW data does not use consistent definitions year-to-year.

About EMSI Data

EMSI’s comprehensive labor market dataset removes suppressions, includes proprietors, and is available for all counties and ZIP codes, creating a more complete picture of regional economies. This data gives you valuable insight on occupation growth and decline, industry trends, educational program completions, and lots more—all presented in a way that real people can understand. In addition to the US, EMSI offers thorough data for Canada and the UK, as well as France, Brazil, and Australia.

For more information, contact us. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.