Research Data on the Nonprofit Sector


The Bureau of Labor Statistics developed research data on employment, wages and establishment figures for nonprofit institutions. These figures provide an insight into this important segment of the U.S. economy.

BLS receives many requests for this cross-section of the economy.  In the past, researchers have developed such measures using the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) for this work. These nonprofit data files are being released by BLS as research series and we are asking the public for comments on the methodology and the data.

Comments on these data can be submitted at

This project is limited to measuring the number of private sector establishments, employment, and wages for a portion of the nonprofit sector known as 501(c)3’s. These nonprofits are commonly referred to as charitable organizations.  While there are other nonprofit classifications, such as 501(c)4’s, BLS publication will focus only on the 501(c)3 classification.


The development of these research series utilized two existing data sources: the QCEW and the Internal Revenue Service’s Exempt Organization Business Master File (EOBMF).

  1. The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: Every business with an Unemployment Insurance (UI) covered employee is required to report employment for each month and quarterly wages and unemployment insurance contributions to the respective state each quarter. These data are mandated by state law, thus ensuring very high rates of coverage and reporting. For a more complete description of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program, please see the QCEW section of the BLS Handbook of Methods or visit the QCEW homepage.

Under state UI laws, some establishments are not required to pay unemployment insurance contributions each quarter, but rather are allowed to reimburse the unemployment insurance system when a claim is made. These establishments are termed “reimbursables” and most states will restrict such units to 501(c)3 nonprofits. The QCEW micro data include information on “reimbursables.”

The QCEW program asked all states to determine whether a reimbursable flag exclusively designated a 501(c)3 organization for private sector establishments. Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands confirmed that this would always be the case. The remaining 21 states indicated that such a reimbursable flag could also specify something other than a 501(c)3 establishment. BLS asked these states to indicate 501(c)3 status versus other possibilities, such as 501(c)4’s. See Appendix 1, State Classification of Reimbursable Nonprofit Establishments, for a breakdown by state.

  1. The Internal Revenue Service Exempt Organization Business Master File (EOBMF): Businesses wishing to obtain recognition of tax-exempt status by the IRS must submit a request to the IRS on Form 1023, Form 1023-EZ or Form 1024. Information that is collected on these forms includes, but is not limited to, the Employer Identification Number (EIN), primary name of the organization, address, a subsection code stipulating the type of tax exempt status, asset and income figures and a description of the organization's activities.

Information on nonprofits is publically available from the IRS. The data collected through the 990 and 990-EZ forms are published through the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract website. These nonprofit data are maintained and made public through the EOBMF.

The EOBMF is a large cumulative dataset that is updated monthly. The file BLS used to construct these research data series was downloaded in March 2013 from the Statistics of Income website and contained approximately 1.53 million records. Once an organization is granted tax exempt status, this status is valid for the life of the organization as long as it complies with the provisions of its exemption.

These research data were created using a two-step process that is described below. Each step included a quality control review.

Step 1: Employer Identification Number Match between the QCEW and the EOBMF

The first step comapred the IRS nonprofit EINs to the QCEW database. Only records identified on the EOBMF as 501(c)3 organizations were selected. When a match was obtained, all private sector establishments associated with this matched EIN were placed into a preliminary nonprofit dataset. Only active establishments were retained; any establishment identified as pending or inactive was eliminated.

BLS staff then examined all matched records looking for anomalies. Staff compared a business’s name, address and functionality between the IRS and QCEW databases. When necessary and possible, staff reviewed an organization’s website to obtain further information. Research on possible incorrect matches resolved discrepancies leading to the record either being retained as a nonprofit organization or identified as a false match.

State Workforce Agency staff then reviewed a portion of the IRS-QCEW matched record file. Any record identified as an incorrect match was added to the false match dataset. These cases will be retained for future exclusion.

False matches may occur for a variety of reasons. It is well-known that businesses can have several or many EINs and may use one of the EINs for various purposes, not always using the same EINs consistently. Data entry errors may also be a source of false matches.

Step 2: Include Reimbursable Units not on the IRS File

Some of the records matched in the first step from the IRS dataset to the QCEW were reimbursables. However, for various reasons, not all reimbursable organizations file with the IRS and, as a result, are not listed on the EOBMF.

To include these missing organizations, all active private sector establishments in the QCEW database with a reimbursable flag were placed in a separate file. Then records already matched in step 1 were removed. Establishments located in states that already confirmed that a reimbursable flag exclusively designated a 501(c)3 organization were retained as in-scope nonprofits. QCEW sent the remaining 21 states a listing of all unmatched reimbursable establishments within their state. States reviewed business names and addresses and other information to indicate whether each business should be included as a 501(c)3 or not. Any unit determined not to be a 501(c)3 was placed in the dataset of false matches. All other records were retained as in-scope nonprofits.

The inclusion of the “unmatched reimbursables” added roughly 400,000 employment and is the single most important improvement to the Johns Hopkins methodology (PDF).

Outside Review

BLS asked organizations in the nonprofit community to review all aspects of this project. Their comments and suggestions aided BLS staff in this first-time research and ensured that project results would be useful to the public. The outside groups were from Johns Hopkins University and the Urban Institute. BLS is grateful for their time, expertise and guidance in this project.

An earlier report (PDF) by Johns Hopkins University on nonprofit organizations excluded all records in the Commercial Banking industry (NAICS 522110). After the outside researchers reviewed the micro data for this industry, they determined that in many cases these records were legitimate nonprofit organizations. As a result, this industry is included in the current QCEW nonprofit methodology.

These researchers also assisted in the identification of false matches. Micro data records from all industries were reviewed and any incorrect matches were added to the false match dataset.

Description of the QCEW

The QCEW data are the product of a federal-state cooperative program. The data are derived from summaries of employment and total pay of workers covered by state and federal unemployment insurance (UI) legislation and provided by State Workforce Agencies (SWAs). The summaries are a result of the administration of state unemployment insurance programs that require most employers to pay quarterly taxes based on the employment and wages of workers covered by UI.

Employment and wage data for workers covered by state UI laws are compiled from quarterly contribution reports submitted to the SWAs by employers. For federal civilian workers covered by the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program, employment and wage data are compiled from quarterly reports submitted by four major federal payroll processing centers on behalf of all federal agencies, with the exception of a few agencies which still report directly to the individual SWA. In addition to the quarterly contribution reports, employers who operate multiple establishments within a state complete a questionnaire, called the "Multiple Worksite Report," which provides detailed information on the location and industry of each of their establishments. QCEW employment and wage data are derived from microdata summaries of 9.1 million employer reports of employment and wages submitted by states to the BLS in 2012. These reports are based on place of employment rather than place of residence.

UI and UCFE coverage is broad and has been basically comparable from state to state since 1978, when the 1976 amendments to the Federal Unemployment Tax Act became effective, expanding coverage to include most State and local government employees. In 2012, UI and UCFE programs covered workers in 131.7 million jobs. The estimated 126.9 million workers in these jobs (after adjustment for multiple jobholders) represented 95.5 percent of civilian wage and salary employment. Covered workers received $6.491 trillion in pay, representing 93.7 percent of the wage and salary component of personal income and 40.0 percent of the gross domestic product.

Major exclusions from UI coverage include self-employed workers, most agricultural workers on small farms, all members of the Armed Forces, elected officials in most states, most employees of railroads, some domestic workers, most student workers at schools, and employees of certain small nonprofit organizations.

Differences in State Unemployment Insurance Coverage

State and federal UI laws change periodically. These changes may have an impact on the employment and wages reported by employers covered under the UI program. Coverage changes may affect the annual figures presented in this research data series.

The Federal Unemployment Tax Act requires state coverage of unemployment insurance for nonprofit organizations. Eighteen states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands provide coverage for (and thus require reporting of) establishments with one or more employees (see Appendix 2: Required State Reporting Threshold for Unemployment Insurance Coverage). A higher reporting threshold (4 or more employees) in the remaining 32 states results in the undercounting of nonprofit employment and wages in these states. For more details see the Coverage section in the Comparison of State Unemployment Insurance Laws.

Research Data Series

Nonprofit data are available at the national NAICS 2-digit and 3-digit industry level and at the state NAICS 2-digit level. Annual figures for 2007 through 2012 are available as research series.  Each series is available as an Excel file for the following variables:

  1. Annual Average Number of Establishments
  2. Annual Average Employment
  3. Total Annual Wages
  4. Average Wages per Employee
  5. Average Weekly Wage per Employee

These data are the result of a research project and may be updated periodically, as resources permit. They are not an official BLS published series.

Tables for state-level data include Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. However, these two territories are not included in U.S. Totals.

Data Files

National NAICS 2-digit and 3-digit Industry Data

  • 2012 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2011 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2010 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2009 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2008 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2007 annual averages (XLSX)

State NAICS 2-digit Industry Data

  • 2012 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2011 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2010 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2009 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2008 annual averages (XLSX)
  • 2007 annual averages (XLSX)


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Will this be a regularly produced data product?

    At present the QCEW program is releasing these nonprofit data on a research basis.   Based upon the public’s reception and available resources, the BLS may decide to create an official BLS series.

  2. When will the next updated version of these data be released?

    There is no established date for an updated version of these data.

  3. Will the QCEW expand the scope of the nonprofit data series?

    Resources and interest permitting these series may be extended back beyond 2007. It may also be possible to provide a greater level of geographic and industry detail.

  4. What about other nonprofit classifications (e.g. 501(c)4)?

    At this time the BLS does not plan to publish other nonprofit classifications.

  5. Where can I find the IRS nonprofit datasets?

    The IRS nonprofit data can be obtained from the Exempt Organizations Business Master File Extract website.


    Last Modified Date: April 30, 2015