Nonprofit Organizations: New Insights from QCEW Data: The BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Data Set Has Enormous Promise as a Source of Timely Information on the Private, Nonprofit Sector; New Discoveries Challenge a Variety of Conventional Theories about These Organizations

By Salamon, Lester M.; Sokolowski, S. Wojciech | Monthly Labor Review, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Nonprofit Organizations: New Insights from QCEW Data: The BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Data Set Has Enormous Promise as a Source of Timely Information on the Private, Nonprofit Sector; New Discoveries Challenge a Variety of Conventional Theories about These Organizations


Salamon, Lester M., Sokolowski, S. Wojciech, Monthly Labor Review


Interest in the broad array of social institutions, which make up the U.S. private, nonprofit sector, has grown substantially in recent years. These institutions, which blend private structure with public purpose, perform various services in American society. Included within this sector are more than half of the Nation's general hospitals; nearly half of its higher education institutions; most of its family service agencies; almost all of its symphonies; substantial proportions of its nursing homes; and most of its homeless shelters, soup kitchens, community development agencies, and hospices--to name just a few. This set of organizations also has nurtured virtually ever), social movement that has animated American political life and has constantly provided ways to express the diverse array of ethnic, religious, cultural, artistic, professional, and social values that give special vitality to community life.

Information about nonprofit institutions remains surprisingly sparse, despite concerted efforts of a growing band of researchers over the past several years. One reason for this is the limited data available on nonprofit institutions in existing data sources. Estimates of key dimensions of this sector therefore remain dependent on highly imperfect projections from dated information or on data sources whose accuracy and reliability remain highly suspect. In some respects, in fact, the data sources have deteriorated in recent years. For example, the quintennial Census Bureau Survey of Service Industries, which formerly provided one of the few systematic, albeit delayed, pictures of nonprofit activity as reflected in employment data, has progressively narrowed its focus, with the deletion of coverage of education institutions. (1) Although other data sources, such as the Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, which nonprofit organizations are required to file annually, have recently become more accessible, these data sources often suffer from other limitations that make them difficult to use for analytical purposes. (2)

However, a partnership between the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies (3) created a way to use an existing source of data for tracking employment in the nonprofit sector: the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program (QCEW). (4) Data from the QCEW are regularly collected by State workforce agencies as part of the Federal-State cooperative statistical system.

Managed by State Labor Market Information offices under the watchful eye of BLS, the QCEW offers enormous advantages for analysts and others who need to gauge the economic status and evolution of the nonprofit sector. One advantage of this arrangement is that data are timely: reports are collected on a monthly basis from employers and published quarterly, usually within 6 to 7 months of their collection. Beyond this, data are collected at the establishment level and available, except for disclosure limitations, at a fine-grained geographic level, making it possible to track geographic shifts. Another advantage is that the QCEW covers the bulk of nonprofit employment and does so within a data system that also covers for-profit and government employment, facilitating cross-sector comparisons. (5)

Despite its considerable advantages, however, the QCEW data source has long had a major limitation as a source of insight into nonprofit employment: it does not routinely carry an identifier that would make it possible to determine which establishments are tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit employment is therefore reported as part of a larger aggregate category, total nonfarm private sector employment.

The purpose of this article is to describe an effort, which is under way with the assistance of BLS, to separate out the nonprofit employment within the QCEW data and analyze it. Specifically, the article first explains why employment is such a useful prism through which to view the nonprofit sector, then describes the procedure being used to identify the nonprofit firms in the QCEW data, and finally reports on some of the principal findings that have emerged so far from the application of this procedure. …

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Nonprofit Organizations: New Insights from QCEW Data: The BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Data Set Has Enormous Promise as a Source of Timely Information on the Private, Nonprofit Sector; New Discoveries Challenge a Variety of Conventional Theories about These Organizations
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