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May 3 -- The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) invites public review and comment to OMB by June 2, 2021 on its proposal to conduct the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Business Supplement (QBS).

BLS intends to implement a new collection for a QCEW Business Supplement (QBS). Through the QBS, the BLS will be able to capture information on the US economy in a more efficient and timely manner than is currently possible. The QBS is intended to be a versatile collection instrument that will allow BLS to quickly collect and publish information so that stakeholders and data users can understand the impact of specific events on the US economy as they occur, improving the relevancy of the data.

The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program produces a comprehensive tabulation of employment and wages for workers covered by state Unemployment Insurance (UI) laws and Federal workers covered by the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program. The UI administrative records underlie the QCEW. While based on the UI administrative data, it is the detailed review and editing that yield the QCEW and the additional detail and information collected and updated via the Multiple Worksite Report (MWR) and Annual Refiling Survey (ARS) that allows the QCEW to serve as the sampling frame for BLS establishment surveys. The information collected, edited, and maintained by the QCEW program allows BLS to publish information reflective of the entire U.S. economy. QCEW currently is the most frequent, comprehensive, accurate, and timely publication of information available at the maximum industry and geographical detail on the US economy. Additionally, the QCEW is the only source of monthly employment for the entire US economy.

Each year, the QCEW program conducts the ARS by reaching out to approximately 1.2 million establishments requesting verification of their main business activity and their mailing and physical location addresses. BLS has successfully transitioned the ARS to a fully on-line survey and accelerated the timeframe for collection. This fully web-based ARS introduces a low-cost platform for conducting the QBSs. The QBSs accompanying the ARS have little data collection overhead, leveraging the address refinement, printing, and mailing efforts that are undertaken as part of the production ARS.

The QBS is intended to be versatile collection instrument, allowing the BLS to capture information on events affecting the US economy, such as the coronavirus pandemic, relatively quickly. The QBS will undergo the OMB clearance process every three years with a 60-day and 30-day notice. This request describes the general nature of the QBS collection.  Detailed information on the initial QBS covering the coronavirus pandemic also is provided within this request. When the need to capture new information on the economy arises, the BLS will develop successive questionnaires that are specific to those data needs. The BLS will submit separate requests to OMB to conduct each new questionnaire under the QBS clearance. Each OMB request will include additional details on each of these collections, including the estimated burden hours. The BLS will provide the public with an opportunity to comment on these questionnaires via a 30-day Federal Register notice where additional details will be provided.

The initial QBS survey will collect information about how businesses have continued to change their operations as they transition through mid and late stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Topic areas include telework, paid sick leave, workplace flexibilities, changes in demand and products or services offered, and others. This information, in combination with data collected by current BLS surveys, could help create a more robust understanding of how businesses responded to the impacts created by the pandemic. Specifically, other BLS statistics could provide indications of changes in employment, wages, job openings and terminations, employer-provided benefits, and safety and health, but will not be able to determine if any changes in levels were related to the coronavirus pandemic. Only by asking employers directly what they experienced, and how they responded to the pandemic, can data users be able to draw meaningful conclusions.

BLS plans to select a sample of approximately 597,000 establishments. The objective of the large sample is to produce statistics at detailed levels including by size class, state, industry, and some state-industry, state-size combinations. With the intended large QBS sample size, BLS plans to calculate estimates at the national and state-level, and at the industry sector level, and at size class level. This will help assess state and industry differences in business situations and changes. The goal for the data will be to be published in a public news release and academic journal. BLS expects to publish survey results nationally, by state, by sector, and where possible by state and sector, contingent on response and the ability to meet disclosure avoidance thresholds.

The timetable for publication will be dependent on when the survey is approved and in the field. Once the survey is in the field, data collection is estimated to take approximately 2-3 months and data review and publication activities would take approximately 2-3 months. Publication can be expected roughly 4-6 months after data collection begins. The current goal for publication is December 2021, though this timeline is subject to change.

QBS submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202104-1220-003 Click on IC List for survey instrument, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation.
FR notice inviting public review and comment: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/05/03/2021-09203/agency-information-collection-activities-submission-for-omb-review-comment-request-quarterly-census

Point of contact:  Ed Robison, Division Chief of the Statistical Methods Staff, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics, BLS 202-691-6363  robison.edwin@bls.gov

For AEA members wishing to provide comments, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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