Current Employment Statistics Frequently Asked Questions


Data Overview


  1. What is the CES survey?

    The establishment payroll survey, known as the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, is based on a survey of approximately 144,000 businesses and government agencies representing approximately 554,000 worksites throughout the United States. The primary statistics derived from the survey are monthly estimates of employment, hours, and earnings for the Nation, States, and major metropolitan areas. Preliminary National estimates for a given reference month are typically released on the third Friday after the conclusion of the reference period in conjunction with data derived from a separate survey of households, the Current Population Survey (CPS). The reference period for the CES survey is the pay period which includes the 12th of the month.

    For more information about the CES survey, see the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm.

  2. How does CES data compare to other program's data?

    CES compared with CPS

    The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program is a monthly survey of business establishments (or jobs). CES produces estimates on the number of employees on nonfarm payrolls, average hourly earnings, average weekly earnings, and average weekly hours. The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of households (or people). The household survey produces estimates about the labor force, the employed, the unemployed, the unemployment rate, and demographic information about the employed and unemployed. More information about the differences between the CPS and the CES surveys is available at www.bls.gov/web/ces_cps_trends.pdf.

    For more information about the CPS survey, see the CPS homepage at www.bls.gov/cps/home.htm.

    CES compared with QCEW

    The CES and Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) programs are related but do not report the exact same information at the same frequency. The QCEW program publishes a quarterly count of employment and wages covering 98 percent of U.S. jobs, available at the county, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), State, and National levels by industry. The CES program surveys about 144,000 businesses and government agencies, representing approximately 554,000 worksites, in order to provide detailed industry data on employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls on a monthly basis.

    Unemployment Insurance (UI) tax reports, submitted by nearly all businesses in the U.S., are used as both the input data for QCEW data and as the majority of the sample frame for the CES survey and cover almost all private industries and government agencies. CES employment figures are benchmarked each year in large part using data from the QCEW program because both programs use the pay period including the 12th of the month as the reference period for employment.

    QCEW quarterly wages include total compensation paid during the calendar quarter to all workers; CES hours and earnings data are reported for all employees and for production or nonsupervisory employees in private industry who received pay (whether they worked or not) during any part of the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month. CES earnings do not include irregular bonuses or retroactive pay.

    CES data are published 3 weeks after the week that includes the 12th of the month, typically the first Friday of the following month. QCEW data are published much later, approximately 6 months after the end of the reference period.

    More information about the differences between the QCEW, CES, and other establishment-based employment measures is available at www.bls.gov/news.release/cewqtr.tn.htm. For additional information about the QCEW survey visit www.bls.gov/cew/cewover.htm.

  3. Why are there multiple monthly measures of employment?

    The household survey administered by the Current Population Survey (CPS) program and establishment survey administered by the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program both produce sample-based estimates of employment and both have strengths and limitations. The establishment survey employment series has a smaller margin of error on the measurement of month-to-month change than the household survey because of its much larger sample size. An over-the-month employment change of about 100,000 is statistically significant in the establishment survey, while the threshold for a statistically significant change in the household survey is about 400,000. However, the household survey has a more expansive scope than the establishment survey because it includes self-employed workers whose businesses are unincorporated, unpaid family workers, agricultural workers, and private household workers, who are excluded by the establishment survey. The household survey also provides estimates of employment for demographic groups.

    More information about the differences between the two surveys is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/ces_cps_trends.pdf.


  4. Available Data

  5. What data are available from CES?

    The Current Employment Statistics program administers the establishment survey and uses the data collected to produce monthly nonfarm payroll estimates. The types of data produced include the following:

    • All employees
    • Production or nonsupervisory employees (depending on industry)
    • Women employees
    • Average weekly hours
    • Average hourly earnings (constant dollar and current dollar)
    • Average weekly earnings
    • Average overtime hours in manufacturing
    • Indexes of aggregate hours and payrolls
    • Diffusion indexes

    All data are available not seasonally adjusted, and some data are available seasonally adjusted.

  6. How often are CES data released and when can I expect each monthly CES press release?

    The Employment Situation report is released monthly, typically on the third Friday after the conclusion of the reference week, which is the week that includes the 12th of the month. A table of upcoming Employment Situation release dates is available at www.bls.gov/ces/ces_tabl.htm.

  7. Are preliminary CES estimates available?

    The BLS LABSTAT database, available at www.bls.gov/ces/data.htm, has only the latest published statistics. More information about how to access the BLS data using the data retrieval tools is available under Data Retrieval at (www.bls.gov/ces/cesfaq.htm#DataRetrieval).

    CES does not keep a separate database of first-published numbers. However, preliminary estimates for some data types for a limited level of industry detail can be obtained from archived news releases available here www.bls.gov/schedule/archives/empsit_nr.htm, from the monthly online publication Employment and Earnings available here www.bls.gov/opub/ee/, or from the monthly revision tables available here www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesnaicsrev.htm.

  8. Are historical CES employment estimates available prior to 1939?

    Current Employment Statistics employment data date back to 1939 at the highest levels of aggregation. Most detailed industries only date back to 1990, and all employee hours and earnings series began in 2006. For a complete list of start dates for NAICS-based all employee series, see www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesseriespub.htm.

    Additionally, discontinued SIC-based employment estimates are available from 2003 going back to 1964 and in some cases as far back as 1939 or 1919. These series are not comparable with current CES NAICS-based series. To access these discontinued CES data, go to www.bls.gov/ces/data.htm. For more information about SIC coding of industries, visit www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics.htm#3.2.3.

  9. Are historical CES hours and earnings estimates available prior to 1964?

    Manufacturing and other goods-producing industries were the primary focus of early industry data produced by the BLS. Therefore, hours and earnings time series for these industries have a relatively long history. Data for Manufacturing and its broadest industry categories begin in 1939, and for Mining and Construction, in 1947. Prior to 1964, however, the collection of hours and earnings data for the Service-providing sector was limited to a few select industries. Given this incomplete industry coverage along with the size of the services portion of the economy, it was not possible to compute hours and earnings estimates for all of the private industries. Beginning in 1964, the collection of hours and earnings data for services was expanded to an extent sufficient to compute Total private hours and earnings estimates. These estimates were first published in 1967.

    Discontinued SIC-based hours & earnings estimates are available from 2003 going back to 1964 and in some cases as far back as 1947 or 1939. These series are not comparable with current CES NAICS-based series. To access these discontinued CES data, go to www.bls.gov/ces/data.htm. For more information about SIC coding of industries, visit www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics.htm#3.2.3.

  10. Why doesn't CES collect agricultural employment? Is agricultural employment available elsewhere?

    CES draws its sample and sets its benchmark employment level from the business establishment list maintained by the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program. This universe for business establishments is based on Unemployment Insurance (UI) administrative records, so workers who are not covered by UI will not be captured. In Agriculture there are numerous exemptions to requirements for UI coverage, making the sample frame for Agriculture insufficient for calculating statistically sound estimates. In addition, a substantial number of Agricultural enterprises are self-proprietorships, which are out of scope for the CES survey.

    Historically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture has been the primary survey used to measure farm labor. The Census of Agriculture is available at www.agcensus.usda.gov/index.php.

    Some BLS data about Agricultural employment can be obtained from the QCEW (www.bls.gov/cew/home.htm), Current Population Survey (www.bls.gov/cps/home.htm), and Occupational Employment Statistics (www.bls.gov/oes/home.htm) programs.

  11. Are CES estimates by size of establishment available?

    The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program is examining the feasibility of publishing monthly CES employment, hours, and earnings estimates by firm size. Currently, BLS publishes the first preliminary CES employment estimates for a given month at selected industry detail. Subsequent estimates for that month are published in more industry detail with the following month's first estimates. Research suggests that the available sample may make it feasible to publish monthly size-class employment estimates by major industry sector together with the first preliminary estimates. Employment change by firm size would add a valuable dimension of detail to understanding current employment trends. More information about the experimental CES size class series is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cessizeclass.htm.

    Some data by size of establishment are also available from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (www.bls.gov/cew/home.htm) program.


  12. Classification

  13. How are the CES estimates categorized?

    CES estimates are categorized by ownership and industry. Respondents are assigned an ownership code — private or public with public ownership further divided into Federal, State, or local. Respondents are then assigned a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. NAICS codes group establishments into industries based on the activity in which they are primarily engaged. Establishments using similar raw material inputs, similar capital equipment, and similar labor are classified in the same industry. More information about NAICS codes in general is available at www.bls.gov/bls/naics.htm. More information about NAICS codes in the CES program is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics.htm.

  14. How are the CES survey respondents categorized?

    CES survey respondents are categorized by Unemployment Insurance (UI) accounting code, location, ownership, size, and reporting unit. Each business has also been categorized into a certain industry by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. Establishments are stratified by UI account number for the purpose of sample allocation and selection. The sample strata, or subpopulations, are defined by State, metropolitan statistical area, industry, and employment size, yielding a State-based design. Thirteen industries (treating Manufacturing as one industry and not including Government) and 8 size classes result in 104 total allocation cells per State.

    More information about these categories and how they are used to draw the CES sample of establishments is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section1a.

  15. How did series change when CES switched from using the Standard Industry Classification (SIC) system to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)?

    After 60 years of use, CES retired the SIC system and replaced it with the NAICS. NAICS is the product of a collaborative effort between the United States (U.S.), Canada, and Mexico. A classification system shared across the three countries allows direct comparison of economic data across borders in North America.

    NAICS codes are not related to SIC codes; rather NAICS is a completely redesigned way of coding industries. NAICS recognizes hundreds more businesses than SIC did, largely in the fast-growing service sector.

    The U.S. Census Bureau issued a notice, available at www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/federal_register_notices/notices/fr09ap97.pdf, making NAICS effective in the U.S. in April 1997 and published the first NAICS U.S. manual in mid-1998. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) did not transition to the first version of NAICS, NAICS 1997. Instead, NAICS 2002 was the first version implemented by BLS, and the CES program converted from SIC to NAICS in June 2003. Reviews of NAICS are scheduled every five years; NAICS 2012 is the most current version.

    More information about NAICS in the CES program is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics.htm. More information about the CES conversion from SIC to NAICS 2002 is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics02.htm.

  16. How has NAICS changed since its implementation in the CES estimates?

    The U.S. Census Bureau reviews and updates NAICS codes every 5 years. Once these updates are available to BLS, CES converts all estimates to these revised NAICS codes. The most current version is NAICS 2012. More information about NAICS 2002, NAICS 2007, and NAICS 2012 is described and linked below.

    NAICS 2007 to NAICS 2012 Conversion

    With the release of January 2012 data on February 3, 2012, CES updated the National nonfarm payroll series to the NAICS 2012 from the NAICS 2007 basis. The conversion to NAICS 2012 resulted in minor content changes within the Manufacturing and the Retail trade sectors, as well as minor coding changes within the Utilities and the Leisure and hospitality sectors. Several industry titles and descriptions also were updated. All employee (AE) series are published at a more detailed level than all employee hours and earnings, production employee, women employee, or production employee hours and earnings series, collectively called non-AE series. The non-AE series were sometime unaffected or affected at a less-detailed level than the AE series.

    Further information about the NAICS 2012 conversion for both the AE and non-AE series is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics12.htm.

    The full concordance between NAICS 2007 and NAICS 2012 codes is available through the US Census Bureau at www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/concordances/2012_to_2007_NAICS.xls.

    NAICS 2002 to NAICS 2007 Conversion

    With the release of January 2008 data on February 1, 2008, the CES National nonfarm payroll series updated to the NAICS 2007 from the NAICS 2002 basis. The conversion to NAICS 2007 resulted in minor definitional changes within Manufacturing, Telecommunications, Financial activities, and Professional and technical services. Several industry titles and descriptions also were updated.

    Further information about the NAICS 2007 conversion is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics07.htm.

    The full concordance between NAICS 2002 and NAICS 2007 codes is available through the US Census Bureau at www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/concordances/2007_to_2002_NAICS.xls.

    SIC 1987 to NAICS 2002 Conversion

    With the release of May 2003 data on June 6, 2003, the CES National nonfarm payroll series underwent a number of changes. The basis for industry classification changed from the SIC 1987 to the NAICS 2002. NAICS replaced the SIC system. The CES survey published National data on a NAICS 2002 basis with the release of May 2003 data on June 6, 2003. SIC-based data is no longer produced or published; it is still be available but not updated past April 2003.

    Further information about the NAICS 2002 conversion is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesnaics02.htm.

    The full concordance between SIC and NAICS 2002 codes is available through the US Census Bureau at www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/concordances/2002_NAICS_to_1987_SIC.xls.


  17. Data Retrieval

  18. How can I get CES estimates?

    CES data are published monthly, but are also available as historical time series. The data are available as part of a monthly news release, as a searchable database, and in text format. The table below lists the ways to download CES data from www.bls.gov/ces/home.htm. More information about retrieving CES data is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cestips.htm. Archived editions of Employment and Earnings Online are available from April 2007 forward here: www.bls.gov/opub/ee/archive.htm. Earlier back issues are kept at federal depository libraries.

    To join the BLS e-mail subscription service that provides excerpts from and links to The Employment Situation, Real Earnings, and other BLS news releases of interest, visit the BLS News Service Subscription E-mail page, available at subscriptions.bls.gov/accounts/USDOLBLS/subscriber/new.

    CES Data Retrieval Options
    Source Website Please Note: Format

    Employment & Earnings news release

    www.bls.gov/ces/tables.htm#ee The data are not at the most detailed industry levels. HTML table

    Real Earnings

    www.bls.gov/news.release/realer.toc.htm Data are adjusted for inflation to 1982-84 dollars. HTML table

    CES top picks

    data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ce The data are not at the most detailed industry levels, time periods can be adjusted to include more than 10 years, and only seasonally adjusted data are included in the list. HTML table or Excel (.xls) download

    One Screen Data Search

    data.bls.gov/pdq/querytool.jsp?survey=ce JAVA must be installed on your computer and pop-up blockers must be turned off. Choose each option in order of the red numbers. Time periods can be adjusted to include more than 10 years, both seasonally and not seasonally adjusted data are included, graphs can be automatically generated, and the table format can be changed. HTML table or Excel (.xls) download

    Multi-screen Data Search

    data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/dsrv?ce If you do not have JAVA, this tool will search the same data base as the One Screen Data Search. Time periods can be adjusted to include more than 10 years, both seasonally and not seasonally adjusted data are included, graphs can be automatically generated, and the table format can be changed. HTML table or Excel (.xls) download

    Text Files

    download.bls.gov/pub/time.series/ce/ Only seasonally adjusted data are included. Text files
  19. Why is my data no longer showing up in any of the data retrieval tools?

    BLS requires that all published Current Employment Statistics (CES) estimates meet strict quality and privacy guidelines. These guidelines are designed to ensure that there is adequate sample to produce statistically sound estimates and protect the confidentiality of our survey respondents. CES estimates are subject to annual review to determine if they meet BLS publication and disclosure standards. Failure to meet the standards may stem from inadequate sample size, inadequate sample response rates, or dominance of the sample by a few reporters. A list of the most recent changes to published CES series is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesnewseries.htm, and a complete list of currently published CES series is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesseriespub.htm.

  20. How can I get CES microdata or data about a certain company?

    The mission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is to collect, process, analyze, and disseminate essential statistical data to the American public, the U.S. Congress, other Federal agencies, State and local governments, business, and labor. In order to maintain credibility and trust with our survey respondents, confidentiality protections for our data are essential. Protecting the confidentiality of data is central to accomplishing the BLS mission.

    When collecting data, the BLS makes a pledge of confidentiality to its respondents. This pledge varies depending on the context of each survey, but the standard BLS confidentiality pledge promises that data collected are used for statistical purposes only. Information about the BLS confidentiality policy and the laws that protect reporters to BLS surveys can be found here: www.bls.gov/bls/confidentiality.htm.

    Researchers can get access to Bureau of Labor Statistics microdata under certain circumstances. Information about qualifying for the program and the application process through which access may be granted can be found here: www.bls.gov/bls/blsresda.htm.

  21. How do I get real earnings estimates?

    The Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey collects earnings data for private nonfarm business establishments, excluding Government. To calculate the real earnings series, these nominal dollar earnings estimates for all employees (AE) back to 2006 and for production and nonsupervisory employees (PE) starting as early as 1964 (depending on the industry) are adjusted for inflation using 1982-1984 dollars. The data are available on our website at www.bls.gov/ces/data.htm. Click on "CES Data Access Tips" for further instructions.

  22. How do I get government earnings data?

    CES does not collect or publish Government hours or earnings data. Government earnings data are available from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program. QCEW provides annual, quarterly, and weekly wage data for various private and government industries based on Unemployment Insurance tax reports. QCEW wage information can be found at www.bls.gov/cew/home.htm. CPI price index information can be found at www.bls.gov/cpi/home.htm.

  23. How do I get average payroll frequency?

    The BLS does not publish average payroll frequency of establishments. However, the CES survey does adjust for different payroll frequencies which can affect seasonally adjusted hours and earnings estimates. More information about CES seasonal adjustment methodology can be found at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section5.


Survey Methods


    The Sample

  1. How do I find information about the CES sample?

    The Current Employment Statistics (CES) sample is a stratified, simple random sample of worksites, clustered by Unemployment Insurance (UI) account number. The UI account number is a major identifier on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Longitudinal Database (LDB) of employer records, which serves as both the sampling frame and the benchmark source for the CES employment estimates. The sample strata, or subpopulations, are defined by State, industry, and employment size, yielding a State-based design. The sampling rates for each stratum are determined through a method known as optimum allocation, which distributes a fixed number of sample units across a set of strata to minimize the overall variance, or sampling error, on the primary estimate of interest. The Total nonfarm employment level is the primary estimate of interest, and the CES sample design gives top priority to measuring it as precisely as possible, or minimizing the statistical error around the National Total nonfarm employment estimates.

    Information about the current CES sample can be found in the CES Technical Notes available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section1.

  2. How reliable are the CES estimates?

    The establishment survey, like other sample surveys, is subject to two types of error, sampling and nonsampling error. The magnitude of sampling error, or variance, is directly related to the size of the sample and the percentage of universe coverage achieved by the sample. The establishment survey sample covers over one-third of total universe employment; this yields a very small variance on the Total nonfarm estimates. More information about error in the CES survey and measurements of the error associated with sample estimates are available in the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section1c.

  3. Does the CES sample include small firms?

    Yes, about 40 percent of the establishment survey sample is comprised of business establishments with fewer than 20 employees. The establishment survey sample is designed to maximize the reliability of the Total nonfarm employment estimates for each State; firms from all size classes and industries are appropriately sampled to achieve this goal. Sample data are weighted to represent other establishments in the same State, industry, and size class. More information about the sampling methods used for the CES survey is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section1a.

  4. How are government agencies different from other establishments in the CES sample?

    The CES government sample is not part of the probability-based survey design. CES is able to achieve a very high percent of universe employment coverage (75 percent) by obtaining full payroll employment counts for many government agencies, thus a probability-based sample design is not necessary for Government. The high coverage rate virtually assures a high degree of reliability for the Government employment estimates. The large Government sample does not bias the Total nonfarm employment estimates because it is used to estimate only the Government portion of Total nonfarm employment. The probability sample is used to estimate employment for all industries in the private sector. Total private and Government estimates are summed to derive Total nonfarm employment estimates.

    More information about coverage levels of both private and government employment in the CES sample is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section1b.


  5. Data Collection

  6. How are the CES data collected?

    Each month, BLS collects data on employment, payroll, and paid hours from a sample of establishments. To encourage participation in this voluntary survey, BLS uses a variety of collection techniques, tailored to individual firm preferences. Data collection centers perform initial enrollment of each firm via telephone, collect the data for several months via Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI), and where possible transfer respondents to a self-reporting mode such as touch-tone data entry, fax, or web collection. Very large, multi-establishment firms' ongoing reporting is established via Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). Firms using EDI provide electronic files to BLS that include data from all their worksites.

    More information about CES data collection is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section2.

  7. Where can I find collection rates for the CES sample?

    CES tracks collection rates for the CES sample on a monthly basis for each release of estimates. Collection rates are the percent of reports received for a monthly estimate compared to the total number of actively-reporting sample units on the sample registry.

    More information about registry receipts is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section6.

    More information about CES data collection rates is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesregrec.htm.


Estimation Methods


  1. How does CES compute its monthly estimates?

    The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program uses a matched sample concept and weighted link relative estimator to produce employment, hours, and earnings estimates. A matched sample is defined to be all sample members that have reported data for the reference month and the month prior. Excluded from the matched sample is any sample unit that reports that it has zero employees in the current or previous month.

    More information about CES monthly estimation is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section5a.

    Links to the equations for the calculation of CES monthly estimation of employment, hours, and earnings are listed in the table below.

    CES Equations for the Estimation of Employment, Hours, and Earnings
    Equation Title Equation Location

    Equation 4. All employees

    www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#Eq4

    Equation 5. Production and nonsupervisory employees

    www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#Eq5

    Equation 6. Average weekly hours

    www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#Eq6

    Equation 7. Average hourly earnings

    www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#Eq7

  2. Employment Concepts

  3. How does CES define employment?

    CES employment is an estimate of the number of nonfarm, payroll jobs in the U.S. economy. Employment is the total number of persons on establishment payrolls employed full- or part-time who received pay (whether they worked or not) for any part of the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month. Temporary and intermittent employees are included, as are any employees who are on paid sick leave, on paid holiday, or who work during only part of the specified pay period. A striking employee who only works a small portion of the survey period, and is paid, would be included as employed under the CES definitions. Persons on the payroll of more than one establishment are counted in each establishment. Data exclude proprietors, self-employed, unpaid family or volunteer workers, farm workers, and domestic workers. Persons on layoff the entire pay period, on leave without pay, on strike for the entire period, or who have a pending job but have not yet reported for work are not counted as employed. Government employment covers only civilian employees; it excludes uniformed members of the armed services.

    For more information about CES employment, see the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section4a.

    The definition of employment in the Current Population Survey (the household survey) is available at http://www.bls.gov/cps/faq.htm#Ques4.

  4. What employment does the CES survey exclude and how does this affect the estimates?

    CES draws the survey sample from roughly 9 million U.S. business establishments covered by the Unemployment Insurance (UI) tax system representing 97 percent of all employment within the scope of CES in the 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Excluded from the CES scope, although they are included in the list of establishments covered by UI taxes, are private households and agricultural businesses.

    The remaining 3 percent of establishments included in the CES scope that are not covered by UI laws are students paid by their school as part of a work study program, interns of hospitals paid by the hospital for which they work, employees paid by State and local government and elected officials, independent or contract insurance agents, employees of non-profits and religious organizations (this is the largest group of employees not covered), and railroad employees covered under a different system of UI administered by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). More information about noncovered employment and the methodology used to include this employment in the CES estimates can be found in the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#NCE.

    The CES data also exclude proprietors, the unincorporated self-employed, unpaid volunteer or family employees, farm employees, and domestic employees. Government employment covers only civilian employees; military personnel are excluded. Employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency also are excluded.

  5. How are production and nonsupervisory employees different from all employees in the CES survey?

    The production and nonsupervisory employee groups vary by industry. In service-providing industries, these data are collected for nonsupervisory employees — those who are not owners or who are not primarily employed to direct, supervise, or plan the work of others.

    In Goods-producing industries, the data are collected for production employees in Mining and logging and in Manufacturing, and for construction employees in Construction. Production and construction employees include working supervisors or group leaders who may be "in charge" of some employees, but whose supervisory functions are only incidental to their regular work. The production employee/construction employee categories in Goods-producing industries exclude employees not directly involved in production, such as managers, sales, or accounting personnel.

    More information about which employees are included or not included in the definitions of all employees and production and nonsupervisory employees is available on the CES report forms at www.bls.gov/ces/idcfcesforms.htm, or in the CES Technical Notes, available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section4a.

  6. Are part-time employees counted in the CES survey?

    Yes, the CES survey captures counts of all employees on the payroll, including part-time employees. However, part-time employees are not counted separately from full-time employees, so CES data does not include separate estimates of part- and full-time employment.

    The Current Population Survey (CPS) does have a separate estimate of part-time employees. More information about CPS collection of full- and part-time employment is available at www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm#fullpart.

  7. Are undocumented immigrants counted in the CES estimates?

    It is likely that the CES survey includes at least some undocumented immigrants. However, the establishment survey is not designed to identify the legal status of workers. Therefore, it is not possible to determine how many are counted in the survey.

    The Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, does include questions which identify the foreign and native born employees, but it does not include questions about the legal status of the foreign born employees. More information about foreign born employees in the CPS survey is available at www.bls.gov/cps/demographics.htm#foreignborn.

  8. How do reservists impact the CES survey?

    BLS is unable to quantify the impact of reservists being called to active duty in CES employment figures. In concept, persons on active military duty for the entire survey reference period are not included on employer payrolls. Some reservists hold jobs not covered by the payroll survey — such as the self-employed or those in agriculture — and others may not hold jobs at all. Any reservist who worked for or received pay from their regular employer during the survey reference period is counted on the employer's payroll. If reservists are replaced by new employees on an employer's payroll during the pay period including the 12th of the month, there is no net change in the number of jobs counted. If reservists are not replaced, a net decline in the employer's job count results. If a reservist and a replacement employee for the reservist each worked at any time during the same reference pay period, they are counted as two employees.

    Government employment includes only civilian employees. Military personnel on active duty are excluded. Employees of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency also are excluded.

  9. How are persons with multiple jobs counted in the CES survey?

    Establishments report the number of persons on payroll during the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. A person working multiple jobs at different establishments is counted once at each establishment. A person working different jobs at the same business establishment is counted once.

  10. Can severe weather, natural disasters, government shutdowns, or other catastrophic events affect the CES survey?

    Unusually severe weather, natural disasters, government shutdowns, and other catastrophic events are more likely to have an impact on CES estimates of average weekly hours than on employment. In the establishment survey, the reference period is the pay period that includes the 12th of the month. Average weekly hours are estimated for paid time during the pay period, including pay for holidays, sick leave, or other time off. Any event in which employees are prevented from working a normal schedule typically results in a reduction in average weekly hours. For example, some employees may be off work for part of the pay period and not receive pay for the time missed, while some workers, such as those dealing with cleanup or repair, may work extra hours.

    In order for catastrophic events to reduce the estimate of payroll employment, employees have to be out of work without pay for the entire pay period. About two-thirds of all employees in the payroll survey have a 2-week, semi-monthly, or monthly pay period. Employees who receive pay for any part of the pay period, even 1 hour, are counted in the payroll employment figures. Because the hours that employees work can be impacted by these special circumstances, but those employees might still be counted as employed by an establishment if they were paid for work done during a portion of the pay period, it is not possible to quantify the effect of catastrophic events on estimates of employment from the establishment survey.

    In addition to their direct impact, these events sometimes have secondary effects. When the magnitude of significant secondary effects are known these secondary effects are discussed in the monthly Employment Situation news release and other BLS publications.

  11. Why does the total employment for the Nation not equal the sum of total employment for the States?

    BLS independently develops a National employment series; State estimates are not forced to sum to National totals. Because each State series is subject to larger sampling and nonsampling errors than the National series, summing them cumulates individual State level errors and can cause distortions at an aggregate level. Due to these statistical limitations, BLS does not compile a "sum-of-States" employment series, and cautions users that such a series is subject to a volatile error structure.

    More information about the differences in State and National CES estimates is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section4e.


  12. Hours and Earnings Concepts

  13. What is the difference between wages and earnings?

    The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program produces earnings, but not wage data. CES average earnings are a measure of gross payrolls divided by total hours paid during the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month. Averages of hourly earnings differ from wage rates. Earnings are the return to an employee for a stated period on average in an industry; rates are the amount stipulated for a given unit of work or time in a specific job. Average hourly earnings do not represent employers’ total compensation costs because they exclude items such as employee benefits, irregular bonuses and commissions, retroactive payments, and the employer's share of payroll taxes. A more comprehensive explanation is available at www.bls.gov/opub/hom/homch2.htm.

    The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program produces wages by industry, available at www.bls.gov/cew/home.htm. The Occupational Employment Survey produces wages by occupation (instead of industry), available at www.bls.gov/oes/home.htm.

  14. Do the CES hours and earnings estimates include overtime?

    Yes, employers report total gross pay earned during the entire pay period, including overtime pay but excluding irregular payments, and the total number of hours for which employees received pay during the entire pay period including overtime. Overtime hours are published for manufacturing industries only. Respondents in Manufacturing report the total number of hours for which employees received overtime premiums because they worked more than their regularly scheduled hours.

  15. What data should I use for an escalation clause in a contract?

    BLS recommends that CES earnings series not be used in contract escalation clauses. Instead, BLS recommends that you use the Employment Cost Index (ECI), which measures changes in labor costs free from the influence of employment shifts among industries and occupations. For help on how to use the ECI for contract adjustments, visit www.bls.gov/ncs/ect/escalator.htm.


  16. Birth/Death

  17. How does the CES survey account for employment from new businesses? What is the CES net birth/death adjustment?

    The CES sample alone is not sufficient for estimating the total employment level because each month new firms generate employment that cannot be captured through the sample. There is an unavoidable lag between a firm opening for business and its appearance on the CES sample frame. The sample frame is built from Unemployment Insurance (UI) quarterly tax records. These records cover virtually all U.S. employers and include business births, but they only become available for updating the CES sampling frame 7-9 months after the reference month. After the births appear on the frame, there is also time required for sampling, contacting, and soliciting cooperation from the firm, and verifying the initial data provided. In practice, CES cannot sample and begin to collect data from new firms until they are at least a year old.

    There is a parallel though somewhat different issue in capturing employment loss from business deaths through monthly sample collection. Businesses that have closed are unlikely to respond to the survey, and data collectors may not be able to ascertain until after the monthly collection period that firms have in fact gone out of business. As with business births, hard information about business deaths eventually becomes available from the lagged UI tax records.

    Difficulty in capturing information from business birth and death units is not unique to the CES; virtually all current business surveys face these limitations. Unlike many surveys, CES adjusts for these limitations explicitly, using a statistical modeling technique. Because the goal of the CES program is to estimate an employment total each month and business births and deaths are important components contributing to these totals, CES uses a model-based adjustment in conjunction with the sample. Without the net birth/death model-based adjustment, the CES nonfarm payroll employment estimates would be considerably less accurate.

    More information about the CES net birth/death model is available in the CES Birth/Death Frequently Asked Questions www.bls.gov/ces/cesbdqa.htm or in the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section5c. Current net birth/death contributions to the CES employment estimates are available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesbd.htm.


  18. Seasonal Adjustment

  19. What is a seasonally adjusted estimate?

    Most series published by the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program show a regularly recurring seasonal movement that can be measured from past experience. By eliminating that part of the change attributable to the normal seasonal variation, it is possible to observe the cyclical and other nonseasonal movements in these series. Seasonal adjustment is the process by which these normal seasonal patterns are removed from the estimates leaving behind only non-seasonal trends and irregular movements. Seasonally adjusted estimates of employment and other series are generated using the X-12 ARIMA program developed by the United States Census Bureau. This program adjusts estimates for fluctuations that occur on a regular basis within a year. For example, employment in retail trade rises prior to the Christmas holiday season and then falls following the holiday. This holiday change in retail trade is seasonal and is removed by seasonally adjusting the series. Seasonally adjusted series are published monthly for selected employment, hours, and earnings estimates.

    More information about seasonal adjustment in the CES program is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesseasadj.htm.

  20. When did seasonal adjustment of CES data begin?

    BLS published employment on a seasonally adjusted basis beginning in April 1955. Before this period, the Federal Reserve seasonally adjusted CES employment; those series are available on the St. Louis FED website at research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/categories/11. Hours and earnings were first seasonally adjusted by CES in July 1960.

  21. When was the 4/5 week seasonal adjustment first implemented and why?

    The 4/5 week adjustment used in the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program's seasonal adjustment procedures adjusts for inconsistencies in the CES series that arise because of variations of 4 or 5 weeks between reference periods in any given pair of months. In highly seasonal months and industries, this variation can be an important determinant of the magnitude of seasonal hires or layoffs that have occurred at the time the survey is taken, thereby complicating seasonal adjustment.

    The CES program first incorporated a 4/5 week adjustment with the release of May 1996 data. At that time, historical estimates were revised for the 4/5 week differences back to January 1986. Furthermore, historical data was again re-seasonally adjusted using the 4/5 week adjustment back to January 1986 when CES switched from SIC-based industry definitions to NAICS-based industry definitions in 2003.

    A research paper discussing these 4 to 5 week inconsistencies in the CES estimates called Adjusting for a Calendar Effect in Employment Time Series (1996) is available at www.bls.gov/ore/pdf/st960190.pdf. More information about the CES seasonal adjustment process and special model adjustments such as the 4 to 5 week calendar effect are available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section5e.


  22. Other CES Estimation Concepts

  23. What is the small domain model?

    The CES Small Domain Model (SDM) is used for National and State estimation of a small number of series with sampling limitations. The CES SDM is a weighted least squares model with two employment inputs:

    1. an estimate based on available CES sample for that series, and
    2. an Autoregressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA) projection based on trend from ten years of historical QCEW data.

    These two over-the-month change estimates are then weighted based on the variance of each of the estimates.

    More information about the CES SDM including which series are estimated using the SDM is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section5e. More information about the QCEW program is available at www.bls.gov/cew/home.htm.

  24. What is the ship building or shipyard index?

    The shipyard index tracks the relative change in the dollar amount of average hourly earnings over a given period of time for certain shipyards contracted to do work for the Navy. In calculating the index, each yard’s current straight-time hourly earnings are weighted according to its share of aggregate hours for all yards over the past 12 months. Then, this current weighted earnings measure is compared with the equivalent weighted earnings measure for a given base period (May 1987 for the index that includes lump sum payments and September 1980 for the one that does not). The index is scaled so that the base value equals 100. The values for the other months are expressed as a percentage of the base value.

    For the purposes of the CES shipyard index, a lump-sum payment is defined as a payment made to all production workers in lieu of all or part of a wage increase; no other lump-sum bonuses are included. When a payment is reported, it is prorated forward based on the number of weeks in each month of the lump-sum period.

    The ship building indices are available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesship.htm.


 Monthly Revisions

  1. Why does the CES survey have revisions?

    CES revises published estimates to improve its data series by incorporating additional information that was not available at the time of the initial publication of the estimates. CES revises its initial monthly estimates twice, in the immediately succeeding 2 months, to incorporate additional sample receipts from respondents in the survey. More information about the monthly revisions is available at www.bls.gov/ces/cesrevinfo.htm.

    On an annual basis, CES incorporates a benchmark revision that reanchors estimates to nearly complete employment counts available from Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data, County Business Pattern data, and other state collected data. The benchmark helps to control for sampling error in the estimates. More information about the annual benchmark revision is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesbmart.htm.

  2. When are CES estimates no longer subject to revisions?

    It can be nearly 2 years before not seasonally adjusted CES estimates are considered final. Current Employment Statistics (CES) first preliminary estimates of employment, hours, and earnings are published each month approximately 3 weeks after the reference period. Estimates are then revised twice before being held constant until the annual benchmark release. Second preliminary estimates for a given month are published the month following the initial release, and final sample-based estimates are published 2 months after the initial release. The annual benchmark revisions affect nearly 2 years of data, so most months are subject to revisions during 2 separate benchmark periods.

    Seasonally adjusted CES estimates are generally subject to revisions for 5 years after their initial publication. Current Employment Statistics (CES) first preliminary seasonally adjusted estimates of employment, hours, and earnings are published each month approximately 3 weeks after the reference period. Estimates are then revised twice before being held constant until the annual benchmark release. Second preliminary estimates for a given month are published the month following the initial release, and final sample-based estimates are published 2 months after the initial release. Once a year with the benchmark release, 5 years of seasonally adjusted CES estimates are re-seasonally adjusted.

    For most series, CES uses 10 years of not seasonally adjusted data as an input to seasonal adjustment. However, the all employee hours and earnings series begins in 2006. Until CES has a full 10 years of input data for the AE hours and earnings series, CES will use the entire history of the not seasonally adjusted series as inputs and replace the entire history of the seasonally adjusted data. Continuing these updates until all years have been adjusted using a full 10 years of input data ensures that all data are adjusted using the same methodology.

    Further revisions may occur after the final estimates have been produced due to changes in scope, NAICS revisions, data errors, or other circumstances that require the reconstruction of historical CES estimates.

    More information about the monthly revisions is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section6a. More information about the benchmark revisions is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section6b.


  3. Benchmarking

  4. What is a benchmark in the CES survey?

    The benchmark adjustment, a standard part of the CES survey estimation process, is a once-a-year re-anchoring of the sample-based employment estimates to full population counts available principally through Unemployment Insurance (UI) tax records filed by employers with State labor market information agencies. The difference between the March population counts and the March sample-based employment estimates is referred to as the benchmark revision. A preliminary estimate of the benchmark revision is published in late September, and the final benchmark revision, affecting 21 months of previously published data and anchored to March of the previous year, is published with the January preliminary estimates in early February.

    More information about the CES benchmarking process is available at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesbmart.htm.

  5. What makes up the benchmark employment amount in the CES survey?

    The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program maintains a quarterly tabulation from administrative records of the number of employees covered by Unemployment Insurance (UI) laws, including Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). UI universe counts, available on a lagged basis, contain individual employer records for approximately 9 million establishments and cover nearly 97 percent of Total nonfarm employment; these records provide most of the benchmark levels for the sample-based estimates. For the small segment of the population not covered by UI, BLS develops employment benchmarks from several alternative sources, primarily records from the Railroad Retirement Board and County Business Patterns.

    More information about CES benchmark revisions are available in the Benchmark Article at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cesbmart.htm or in the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section6b.

  6. How do the benchmark revisions affect months prior to the benchmark month in the CES survey?

    Following standard BLS methodology for National estimates, the March UI-based benchmark employment level replaces the March sample-based employment estimate, and the estimates for the 11 months prior to the benchmark month are adjusted using a wedge procedure. In this process, the difference, or error, between the benchmark level and the previously published March estimate for each estimating cell is computed. This difference is linearly distributed across the 11 months of estimates subsequent to the previous benchmark. For example, the benchmark revision that was released in February 2013 replaced the March 2012 estimate with the benchmark level, increasing the employment level for that month by 424,000. To wedge this adjustment over the prior year, 1/12 of the difference was added to April 2011, 2/12s to May and so forth, through February 2012 which received 11/12s of the difference. Employment for March 2011 had been set to a benchmark amount in the prior year and was not revised with the March 2012 benchmark. The wedge procedure assumes that the total estimation error accumulated at a steady rate since the last benchmark.

    Employment benchmarks are applied to not seasonally adjusted estimates. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, 5 years of historical data may revise, because new models for seasonal adjustment are selected and seasonal factors based on the new models are updated with each year’s benchmark release.

    More information about benchmarking is available in the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section6b.

  7. How do the benchmark revisions affect months after the benchmark month in the CES survey?

    Estimates for the period after the benchmark is applied, called the post-benchmark period, are calculated for each month by applying previously derived over-the-month sample change ratios to the revised March levels. New net birth/death model estimates also are calculated and included in post-benchmark estimation. Additionally, new sample from the annual sample update is introduced starting with the third release of estimates for November following the benchmark month.

    Employment benchmarks, including the post-benchmark period, are applied to not seasonally adjusted estimates. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, 5 years of historical data may revise, because new models for seasonal adjustment are selected and seasonal factors based on the new models are updated with each year’s benchmark release.

    More information about benchmarking is available in the CES Technical Notes at www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cestn.htm#section6b.


  1. How can I report my data?

    To begin reporting your CES data or if you have any questions while reporting, please contact the CES Help Desk or call 1-800-827-2005. Include your CES report number(s) in your request or have them available when you call.

    More information for CES respondents is avialable at www.bls.gov/respondents/ces/home.htm.

  2. Is the survey voluntary?

    Each month the CES program surveys about 144,000 businesses and government agencies, representing approximately 554,000 worksites, in order to provide detailed industry data on employment, hours, and earnings of employees on nonfarm payrolls. Input to this survey is greatly appreciated.

    In most States the CES survey is voluntary. However, it is required by state law in North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon, and Washington State. Information about these requirements, including documentation of the applicable legal code, is available on the first page of the report forms. Electronic copies of the report forms for each industry are available at www.bls.gov/ces/idcfcesforms.htm.

    More information for CES respondents is avialable at www.bls.gov/respondents/ces/home.htm.


Last Modified Date: March 10, 2014