Strengths and Weaknesses of the US Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators

Published on Oct 1, 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 and education data sources. Find the whole series here.

The US Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) provides local labor market statistics by industry, worker demographics, employer age, and size.

Unlike statistics tabulated from firm or person-level data, QWI source data is unique job-level data that link workers to their employers. Because of this link, labor market data in QWI is available by worker age, sex, educational attainment, and race/ethnicity. This allows for analysis by demographics of a particular local labor market or industry—for instance, identifying industries with aging workforces.

Links between workers and firms also allow QWI to identify worker flows—hires, separations, and turnover—as well as net employment growth. (Since most hiring activity is the consequence of worker turnover rather than employment growth, a focus on employment growth alone may misrepresent employment opportunity in the local labor market. Read our report on labor market churn.)

Wages by industry and demographics as well as by whether the worker was newly hired are also available. QWI wages for new hires can be compared to wages for continuing workers, and wage growth for similar workers across industries can be compared to identify important local labor market trends.


  • QWI provides a unique link between individuals and employers.

  • QWI helps distinguish actual employment opportunity from general employment growth in a given area.

  • QWI allows for easy wage comparisons between new hires, continuing workers, and similar workers across various regions.

  • QWI data is released quarterly and the numbers are recalculated with every release to improve accuracy.

  • QWI is compatible with Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, EMSI’s most important industry dataset.


  • QWI data is published at the 4-digit NAICS level rather than the 6-digit.

  • QWI is produced on a quarterly schedule with a time lag of nine months (three quarters).

  • Like many public datasets, QWI contains many nondisclosed values that must be replaced with educated estimates.

  • QWI does not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary separations.

How EMSI Incorporates QWI

EMSI uses QWI to create our detailed industry data, augmenting our regular employment data with QWI’s age/gender, and race/ethnicity demographics. After downloading individual state files, we prep QWI data through several steps.

First, we unsuppress QWI at its native level of industry detail (approximately 4-digit NAICS). Since QWI is compatible with QCEW, we then use QWI age/gender and race/ethnicity percentages to disaggregate our class of worker QCEW values, which are at 6-digit NAICS detail. However, we rely less heavily on QWI for creating detailed industry data for the remaining classes of worker (Non-QCEW, Self-Employed, and Extended Proprietors), preferring American Community Survey in these instances. Finally, we use QWI to inform our calculation for hires in our Job Posting Analytics.

EMSI collects data from more than 90 public sources, harmonizes it, and delivers it so you can use it effectively. To learn more about EMSI data, visit our data page or contact us. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.