Comparing Economic Data Sources

Have you ever wondered why “these numbers” don’t match “those numbers?” You aren’t alone! The most frequently cited sources differ greatly in data collection method, time period captured and data definitions. Here is a chart we created to help explain the differences. This chart is also available in a handy PDF. Download your copy for reference.

Your Economy (YE)County Business Patterns (CBP)Current Employment Statistics (CES)Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW)American Community Survey (ACS)
Provided byUniversity of Wisconsin SystemUS CensusBureau of Labor StatisticsBureau of Labor StatisticsUS Census
Reported Time PeriodAnnually*AnnuallyMonthlyQuarterlyAnnually and 5 year
Availability3 months after subject year16 months after subject yearFirst week after subject month5 months after subject quarter1 year after subject year
(currently COVID delayed)
Source of DataTime Series assembled from verified individual establishment records collected by Data Axle.Payroll records filed the week of March 12.Survey of businesses.State unemployment insurance filings, supplemented by survey data.Survey of households.
Excluded industries and/or sizesNone.Farms, rail, postal
service, notaries, and
government.
Establishments without
employees on payroll.
Farms, self-employed
persons, some
government workers.
Establishments with
fewer than 3 employees
on payroll. Farms are
also excluded.
N/A. Questionnaire asks
about household
members, not
establishments.
Geographic Areas AvailableUS, State, Metro Area,
County, Congressional
District and Zip Code.**
US, State, Metro Area,
County, Congressional
District and Zip Code.
US, State, Metro Area.US, State, Metro Area
and County.
US, State, Metro Area,
County, Congressional
District, Zip Code and
Census Tract.
Availability of individual establishment recordsAvailable for purchase,
including all variables.
None. Prohibited by law.None. Prohibited by law.None. Prohibited by law.N/A. Does not survey
establishments.
Units Measured/Key Variables***Firms, establishments, jobs, sales.Establishments,
employees on payroll,
annual payroll.
Establishments,
employees on payroll,
number of paid hours.
Establishments,
employees on payroll,
wages, unemployment.
Household members,
demographics, personal
finances, work status.
Time Series or SnapshotTime Series and SnapshotSnapshotSnapshotSnapshotSnapshot
Formats availableAggregated numbers, Time Series graphs, individual establishment records, custom graphs, charts and maps.Aggregated numbers.Aggregated numbers.Aggregated numbers, interactive maps.Aggregated numbers,
maps, tables, custom
tabulations.

*Data also available Quarterly from 2020.
**Census Tract available from 2019. City and Latitude/Longitude available for most recent year.
***There are two variations of “workers” among these sources. The term “jobs” is used here when the data includes all people engaged in the operations of the establishment, whether they are on official payroll filings or are non-payroll workers (owners, partners, self-employed, etc.).


All of the information included in the above table was obtained directly from the public information posted on the relevant product websites . All information was gathered during the month of August, 2022.

County Business Patterns: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cbp.html

Current Employment Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ces/

Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages: https://www.bls.gov/cew/

American Community Survey: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs