Economic News Release

Occupational Employment and Wages Technical Note

Technical Note

Scope of the survey

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey is a semiannual mail survey 
measuring occupational employment and wage rates for wage and salary workers in 
nonfarm establishments in the United States. OES data available from BLS include 
cross-industry occupational employment and wage estimates for the nation; over 
500 areas, including states and the District of Columbia, metropolitan statistical 
areas (MSAs), metropolitan divisions, nonmetropolitan areas, and territories; 
national industry-specific estimates at the NAICS sector, 3-, 4-, and selected 5- 
and 6-digit industry levels; and national estimates by ownership across all 
industries and for schools and hospitals.

The OES survey is a cooperative effort between BLS and the State Workforce Agencies 
(SWAs). BLS funds the survey and provides the procedures and technical support, 
while the State Workforce Agencies collect most of the data. OES estimates are 
constructed from a sample of about 1.2 million establishments. Each year, forms are 
mailed to two semiannual panels of approximately 200,000 sampled establishments, 
one panel in May and the other in November. May 2013 estimates are based on 
responses from six semiannual panels collected over a 3-year period: May 2013, 
November 2012, May 2012, November 2011, May 2011, and November 2010. The overall 
national response rate for the six panels is 75.3 percent based on establishments 
and 71.6 percent based on employment. The unweighted employment of sampled establish-
ments across all six semiannual panels represents approximately 57.5 percent of 
total national employment. (Response rates are slightly lower for these estimates 
due to the Federal shutdown in October 2013.)

The occupational coding system

The OES survey categorizes workers into 821 detailed occupations based on the 2010 
Office of Management and Budget’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. 
Together, these detailed occupations make up 22 of the 23 SOC major occupational 
groups. Major group 55, Military Specific Occupations, is not included.  

For more information about the SOC system, please see the BLS website at 
www.bls.gov/soc/.

The industry coding system

The May 2013 OES estimates are based on the 2012 North American Industry Classifi-
cation System (NAICS). For more information about NAICS, see the BLS website at 
www.bls.gov/bls/naics.htm. 

The OES survey excludes the majority of the agricultural 
sector, with the exception of logging (NAICS 113310), support activities for crop 
production (NAICS 1151), and support activities for animal production (NAICS 1152). 
Private households (NAICS 814) also are excluded. OES federal government data 
include the U.S. Postal Service and the federal executive branch only. All other 
industries, including state and local government, are covered by the survey.

The OES survey covers all full- and part-time wage and salary workers in nonfarm 
industries. The survey does not include the self-employed, owners and partners in 
unincorporated firms, household workers, or unpaid family workers.

Survey sample

The OES survey draws its sample from state unemployment insurance (UI) files. 
Supplemental sources are used for rail transportation (NAICS 4821) and Guam because 
they do not report to the UI program. The OES survey sample is stratified by metro-
politan and nonmetropolitan area, industry, and size. 

To provide the most occupational coverage, larger employers are more likely to be 
selected than smaller employers. An annual census is taken of the executive branch 
of the federal government, the U.S. Postal Service, and state government.

Concepts

Occupational employment is the estimate of total wage and salary employment in an 
occupation. The OES survey defines employment as the number of workers who can be 
classified as full- or part-time employees, including workers on paid vacations or 
other types of paid leave; workers on unpaid short-term absences; salaried officers, 
executives, and staff members of incorporated firms; employees temporarily assigned 
to other units; and employees for whom the reporting unit is their permanent duty 
station, regardless of whether that unit prepares their paycheck. 

Wages for the OES survey are straight-time, gross pay, exclusive of premium pay. 
Base rate; cost-of-living allowances; guaranteed pay; hazardous-duty pay; incentive 
pay, including commissions and production bonuses; and tips are included. Excluded 
are overtime pay, severance pay, shift differentials, nonproduction bonuses, employer 
cost for supplementary benefits, and tuition reimbursements. 

OES receives wage rate data for the federal government, the U.S. Postal Service, 
and some state governments. For the remaining establishments, the OES survey 
collects wage data in 12 intervals. For each occupation, respondents are asked to 
report the number of employees paid within specific wage intervals. The intervals 
are defined both as hourly rates and the corresponding annual rates, where the 
annual rate for an occupation is calculated by multiplying the hourly wage rate by a 
typical work year of 2,080 hours. The responding establishments are instructed to 
report the hourly rate for part- time workers, and to report annual rates for occu-
pations that are typically paid at an annual rate but do not work 2,080 hours per 
year, such as teachers, pilots, and flight attendants. Other workers, such as some 
entertainment workers, are paid hourly rates, but generally do not work 40 hours 
per week, year round. For these workers, only an hourly wage is reported.

Estimation methodology

The OES survey is designed to produce estimates by combining six panels of data 
collected over a 3-year period. Each OES panel includes approximately 200,000 
establishments. The full six-panel sample of nearly 1.2 million establishments 
allows the production of estimates at detailed levels of geography, industry, 
and occupation.

Wage updating. Significant reductions in sampling errors are obtained by 
combining six panels of data, particularly for small geographic areas and 
occupations. Wages for the current panel need no adjustment. However, wages 
in the five previous panels need to be updated to the current panel's reference 
period.

The OES program uses the BLS Employment Cost Index (ECI) to adjust survey data 
from prior panels before combining them with the current panel's data. The wage 
updating procedure adjusts each detailed occupation's wage rate, as measured in 
the earlier panel, according to the average movement of its broader occupational 
division.

Imputation. About 20 to 25 percent of establishments do not respond for a given 
panel. A "nearest neighbor" hot deck imputation procedure is used to impute 
missing occupational employment totals. A variant of mean imputation is used to 
impute missing wage distributions.

Weighting and benchmarking. The sampled establishments are weighted to represent 
all establishments for the reference period. Weights are further adjusted by the 
ratio of employment totals (the average of November 2012 and May 2013 employment) 
from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages to employment totals from 
the OES survey.

For more information

Answers to frequently asked questions about the OES data are available at 
www.bls.gov/oes/oes_ques.htm. Detailed technical information about the OES survey 
is available in our Survey Methods and Reliability Statement on the BLS website at 
www.bls.gov/oes/current/methods_statement.pdf.



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Last Modified Date: April 01, 2014
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