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Summer 2007 Vol. 51, Number 2

Earnings data from BLS
What we have and how to find it

Elka Maria Torpey


QCEW: Workplaces big and small

Officially named the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), this program has also been called the ES-202, based on the number of a previous table summarizing employment and wages. The QCEW collects earnings by industry, type of ownership—such as government or private—and establishment size. Like the CES, this survey does not collect data by occupation.

The QCEW gathers its data from the forms that employers fill out to comply with the unemployment insurance program. BLS reports the wage data it collects, being careful that individual employers cannot be identified.

Types of earnings data available from this program include total wages, average weekly wages, and average annual pay. Data are available for the Nation, States, metropolitan statistical areas, and counties. For example, private industry workers in Sussex County, Delaware, employed in natural resources and mining made an average of $33,299 a year in 2005, while similar workers in Houston County, Texas, made $37,486. QCEW data also show earnings by establishment size. Data reveal, for example, that people who work for large establishments tend to make more than those who work for smaller establishments.

Because the QCEW program is a census, it collects data from all employers covered by unemployment insurance. It does not need to estimate average earnings based on a sample like other BLS surveys do.

Industry earnings figures from this survey are often quite different from those of the CES described above, largely because QCEW earnings include all types of paid compensation, including bonuses and exercised stock options, whereas CES earnings measure only base pay.

Limitations. In some ways, this program provides a more complete picture of industry earnings than the CES does. But its data may be less up-to-date, as data are collected every 3 months, rather than every month.

Get the data. These data are available online in many forms, including pre-made tables and tools set up to extract customized data. QCEW data are also published in quarterly news releases and in the annual Employment and Wages bulletin. For more information, contact:

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
OEUS/DASLT, Suite 4840
2 Massachusetts Ave. NE.
Washington, DC 20212
(202) 691-6567

What are earnings?

Each of the five programs discussed has its own way of defining earnings. For example, CPS weekly earnings data include overtime pay only if a respondent reports that such pay is usual. NCS and OES wage data, in contrast, do not include overtime pay. And OES and CPS figures incorporate tips, while NCS data exclude them. All of the programs, however, include the largest portion of earnings: base wages and salaries.

Additionally, earnings aren’t the only way workers are compensated. Employee benefits, such as paid holidays, health insurance, and retirement plans, are part of many employees’ pay. Data on benefits are collected in the National Compensation Survey. (For more information, see "An overview of employee benefits" in the summer 2005 OOQ. The article is available online at

Data BLS does not have

BLS programs cover a lot when it comes to earnings, but they don’t provide every type of earnings information. For example, BLS data can’t tell you:

  • Starting salaries (although data by work level from NCS or data on the lowest earning percentiles from OES might offer approximations)

  • Earnings by college major

  • Changes in occupational earnings from month to month or week to week

  • Earnings by specific job title. Instead, occupational earnings data correspond with titles in the Standard Occupational Classification Manual.

But you might still find some of this information—gathered from sources outside of BLS—in BLS career guidance publications like this one.



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Last Updated: February 15, 2007