BLS Program Overviews

Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS)

The Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program is a federal-state cooperative effort between the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Labor and Economic Analysis Division (LEAD) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The LAUS Program produces monthly labor force estimates that include labor force, employment, unemployment, and unemployment rates.

Estimates are available for the United States, the State of North Carolina, and several sub-state geographical areas within North Carolina. These sub-state geographical areas include: 15 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, 24 Micropolitan Statistical Areas, 9 Combined Statistical Areas, 23 Workforce Development Board Areas, 8 Prosperity Zones, 100 counties, 41 cities and towns with population above 25,000, and 21 parts of cities that cross county boundaries. Additional statistical estimates including Labor Force Participation rates and Employment to Population ratios are available for the United States and the State of North Carolina. Estimates produced in the LAUS program are subject to monthly and annual revisions.

There are several different statistical methods utilized to produce the various LAUS data series. These include the signal-plus-noise models utilized for statewide estimates, the building-block approach known as the Handbook procedure utilized for counties and labor market areas, and the disaggregation procedures for cities. For additional information regarding the methods utilized in the LAUS program please see the LAUS Estimation Methodology on the BLS website. National and statewide data series on the NC Dept of Commerce website begin with January of 1976 with most other sub-state data series beginning with January of 1990. Some data series have later start dates that are dependent on population thresholds or geographical configuration changes. Earlier national data is available on the BLS website via the following link

Information utilized in the LAUS program include data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), unemployment insurance claims information, employment data from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) and Quarterly Census of Employment ant Wages (QCEW) programs.

The CPS is a monthly national survey of approximately 60,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is utilized to produce the monthly labor force statistics for the Nation. The concepts and definitions utilized in the LAUS program are the same as those utilized in the national labor force statistical series derived from the CPS. Some of the fundamental concepts are listed below.

  • Estimates produced by the CPS and the LAUS program relate to individuals place of residence.
  • Civilian labor force includes all persons in the civilian noninstitutional population ages 16 and older
  • Employed persons include all persons who, during the reference week (the week including the 12th day of the month), (a) did any work as paid employees, worked in their own business or profession or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of their family, or (b) were not working but who had jobs from which they were temporarily absent because of vacation, illness, bad weather, childcare problems, maternity or paternity leave, labor-management dispute, job training, or other family or personal reasons, whether or not they were paid for the time off or were seeking other jobs. Each employed person is counted only once, even if he or she holds more than one job.
  • Unemployed persons include all persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment some time during the 4 week-period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.
  • Unemployment rate is the percent of the civilian labor force that is unemployed [i.e., 100 times (unemployed/civilian labor force)].
  • Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, the opening and closing of schools, and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series. This permits easier observation and analysis of cyclical, trend, and other non-seasonal movements in the data. By eliminating seasonal fluctuations, the series becomes smoother, and it is easier to compare data from month to month.

For more information regarding the LAUS program including additional data series please see the Bureau of Labor Statistics website For more information regarding the CPS, see the Current Population Survey program homepage.

Current Employment Statistics (CES)

The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program is a federal-state cooperative effort between the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Labor and Economic Analysis Division (LEAD) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The CES program provides monthly estimates of employment, hours, and earnings for the Nation, State, and Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA). Information is derived from a monthly survey of employers conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The CES survey is utilized to collect monthly employment, hours, and earnings information from business establishment payroll records.

Monthly employment and wage estimates are produced for the Nation, State and MSA for several different industry groups; however, all data series are not available for all geographies. Available employment and wage estimates include employment of all employees, employment of female employees, average hours worked for all employees, average weekly wages for all employees, average hourly wages for all employees, employment for production workers, average hours worked per week for production employees, average weekly wages for production employees, and average hourly wages for production employees.

Estimates of employment in the CES program refer to persons on establishment payrolls who receive pay for any part of the reference pay period that includes the 12th of the month. Establishments are classified in industries based on the principal activity or product produced in accordance with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Employment estimates in the CES program relate to the location of work rather than place of residence. Persons appearing on more than one payroll are counted on each payroll.

BLS utilizes different statistical techniques in the production of the CES estimates. Most employment data are estimated using a “link relative” technique in which a ratio (link relative) of current-month employment to that of the previous month is computed from a sample of establishments reporting for both months. The estimates of employment for the current month are obtained by multiplying the estimates for the previous month by these ratios.

For some employment series, the sample of establishments is very small or highly variable. In these cases, a model-based approach is used in estimation. These models use the direct sample estimates (described above), along with forecasts of historical (benchmarked) data to decrease volatility in estimation. Two different models (Fay-Herriot Model and Small Domain Model) are used depending on the industry level being estimated. For more detailed information about each model, please see the BLS website

Employment estimates are subject to monthly and annual revisions. The annual revision is referred to as the benchmark where in employment estimates are adjusted to a count of jobs as derived mainly from employer Unemployment Insurance tax reports. The benchmark information is utilized to adjust the monthly estimates between the new benchmark and the preceding benchmark and to establish the level of employment for the new benchmark month. This benchmark process establishes the level of employment and the monthly sample is used to measure the month to month changes in the level.

The CES program produces Seasonally Adjusted and Not Seasonally Adjusted data series for the Nation and State of North Carolina and for the Total Nonfarm MSA data series. All data series are not available for all geographies. Seasonal adjustments help to adjust data series changes that are attributable to normal seasonal variations. CES estimates are based on a sample of employer survey responses and are subject to sampling and other types of errors. The number of North Carolina business establishments included in the CES sample is approximately 25,000 business establishments.

Additional information regarding the CES program including data for other states and geographical areas can be accessed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website at

Occupational Employment & Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OEWS) program is a federal-state cooperative effort between the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Labor and Economic Analysis Division (LEAD) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The OEWS program provides annual estimates of occupational employment and wages for the Nation, State, Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA), and 4 Nonmetropolitan geographic areas. Information is derived from semiannual surveys of employing establishments conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in collaboration with LEAD.

The OEWS program surveys approximately 180,000 to 200,000 establishments nationwide per six-month survey panel. Survey panels are combined over three years to yield a sample of over 1 million business establishments. This three-year six panel survey process is utilized to reduce respondent burden. North Carolina’s sample size includes approximately 6,000 establishments for each six-month panel.

Employer respondents provide information regarding the number of employees on their payroll by job title along with information regarding employee wages. The collected employment and wage information is referenced to May or November depending on the survey panel. Each job title is coded to an occupational title utilizing the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. The SOC system was first utilized in the OEWS program in 1999. The SOC system was updated in 2010 and again in 2018. As a result, the 2020 OEWS estimates released in 2021 utilize a hybrid system to classify occupations. This hybrid classification systems integrates tiles and codes from the 2010 and 2018 SOC systems.

The OEWS program produces occupational and wage estimates for the Nation, State of North Carolina, 14 MSAs and 4 Nonmetropolitan geographic areas. Information is available by six-digit SOC code and for broad occupational groups. Available statistics include employment, response rate, employment relative standard error, mean hourly wage, mean annual wage, and wage relative standard error. Additional estimates for hourly and annual wages are available for the following percentiles: 10%, 25%, 50% (median), 75% and 90%. The relative standard errors for employment and wage are measures of the reliability of the statistics. The smaller the relative standard error, the more precise the estimate.

OEWS data are released on an annual basis. The corresponding data reflect an employment and wage reference period from the year prior to the release year. For example, the OEWS data that were released in 2021 reflect a reference period of May of 2020. Estimates for all occupations are not available for all geographies. Some estimates are suppressed to protect the confidentiality of employer respondents and other estimates are suppressed due to data quality issues. Missing occupations in the selected data series indicate that estimates are not available for the selected series, while cells with asterisks indicate data suppression.

Employment estimates in the OEWS program reflect full-time and part-time employees, workers on paid vacation or other type of paid leave, workers assigned temporarily to other units and paid owners, officers, and staff of incorporated firms. The OEWS survey excludes proprietors, owners and partners of unincorporated firms, unpaid family workers, workers on unpaid leave, and contractors and temporary agency employees not on the establishment payroll.

Wage estimates include straight time gross pay, exclusive of premium pay. Base rate, cost-of-living allowances, tips, guaranteed pay, hazardous-duty pay, incentive pay, commissions, production bonuses and on-call pay are included in the wage estimates. Types of compensation excluded include back pay, jury duty pay, overtime pay, severance pay, shift differentials, non-production bonuses, and tuition reimbursements.

The OEWS program collects wage information utilizing 12 wage intervals. Employers report the number of employees in each occupational job title by wage intervals. Wage estimates are produced utilizing a mean wage value for each wage interval, except for the highest interval which uses the lower bound of the wage interval. The interval mean wage values are then assigned to all workers in the reported interval. The total weighted wages in each interval are summed across all intervals and divided by the total occupational employment to produce an estimated average (mean) wage for each occupation. Wage estimates produced in the OEWS program are adjusted to reflect wages as of the May reference period.

There is a small group of occupations, including teachers, actors, athletes, coaches, sports officials, flight attendants and pilots, where a standard work-year assumption is not valid and therefore only annual wage estimates are available. There is also a small number of occupations were only hourly wages are available. These include entertainment workers who are paid hourly rates and do not generally work 40 hours per week.

Additional information regarding the OEWS program including data for the Nation and other states can be accessed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website at

Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW)

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program is a federal-state cooperative effort between the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Labor and Economic Analysis Division (LEAD) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The QCEW program provides quarterly employment and wage statistics by industry for the Nation, State, Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA), 23 Workforce Development Board areas and counties. Information is derived from employer quarterly Unemployment Insurance Tax and Wage reports, Multiple Worksite reports and related data sources.

The QCEW program produces quarterly employment and wage statistics that include the number of establishments, monthly employment, average employment, total wages, and average weekly wage. Data are available by several different industry groupings utilizing the North American Industrial Classification System and by ownership type (private, state government, local government, and federal government). Employment and wage statistics are also available by establishment size class. Establishment and wage statistics are available quarterly and annually while employment data are available monthly and annually.

QCEW wage data represents the total compensation paid during the calendar quarter, regardless of when the services were performed. Monthly employment data represents the number of covered workers who worked during, or received pay for, the pay period that included the 12th day of the month. Covered employees in the private-sector and in the state and local government include most corporate officials, all executives, all supervisory personnel, all professionals, all clerical workers, many farmworkers, all wage earners, all piece workers, and all part-time workers. Workers on paid sick leave, paid holiday or paid vacation are also included. Federal employment data are based on reports of monthly employment and quarterly wages.

QCEW data are derived from quarterly information provided by employers on their Unemployment Insurance Quarterly Tax and Wage report. This includes information from private sector employers, as well as from state and local governments covered under the UI program. Federal government employers provide statistical reports via the Report of Federal Employment and Wages; these reports contain only employment and wages data, for each employer’s installations within each state. On occasion, when data are missing or do not meet BLS quality standards they may be imputed and some data may be prorated to handle multiple-establishment employers where the top-level employment and wage data are known but establishment level data are missing or unknown.

In addition to the collection of administrative data from employer’s tax and wage reports the QCEW program conducts two surveys. Approximately one-third of all private sector establishments with more than three employees are contacted annually to verify their main business activity and physical location address via the Annual Refiling Survey (ARS). Additional employment and wage data from multiple-establishment employers are collected via a Multiple Worksite Report (MWR).

The QCEW program utilizes the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) to classify employing establishments. If an employer has multiple establishments and conducts different activities at the establishments, separate industrial codes are assigned, to the extent possible, to each establishment.

Information utilized and produced by the QCEW program is subject to strict confidentiality requirements. These requirements are in place to protect the privacy of employer information. As a result, information produced by the QCEW program is subject to both primary and secondary suppression methods. Therefore, not all data series are available for all geographies, industries, and size classes.

Additional information regarding the QCEW program including data for the Nation and other states can be accessed on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website at