Notice about comparing occupational wages across ownership groups

OES data provide estimates of mean and median wages paid in a wide range of detailed occupations. Because these data are available for different ownerships, such as private and federal, state, or local government, they may be used to compare mean or median wages of occupations across these groups. However, users should be aware that pay for a given occupation can vary across ownerships, industries, and geographic areas due to differences within occupations that are not accounted for in published data. For more information see the question below.

Can the OES data be used to compare private and government pay for similar work?

Occupational wages in the different ownership groups (the private sector, and state, local, and federal governments) are influenced by many factors that the OES measures cannot take into account. Thus, while one can obtain OES data that compare estimates of mean and median wages paid in a wide range of detailed occupations across ownership groups, those comparisons do not explain why they might be different. Among the many reasons are:

  • Level of work performed. Workers may have different levels of responsibility, despite being in the same occupation.
  • Age and experience. More experienced workers tend to have higher wages. (As an example, data from the Current Population Survey show that federal workers, on average, are older and have far more work experience with their employer than the typical private-sector worker.)
  • Cost of living. Workers concentrated in large urban areas with higher costs of living are more likely to have higher wages than those working elsewhere.
  • Establishment size. Workers in large establishments generally have higher wages than workers in small establishments.
  • Work schedules. Full-time workers tend to earn higher hourly wages than part-time workers in the same occupation. (The OES annual wage estimates assume a full-time, year-round schedule of 2,080 hours.)
  • Unionization. Workers in unionized establishments may have different wages than non-union establishments.

OES data are not designed for use in comparing federal and private sector pay because the OES data do not contain information about pay according to the level of work performed. BLS conducts a separate survey, the National Compensation Survey, which provides data by level of work for use by the President's Pay Agent. The President's Pay Agent, (the Directors of the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget, and the Secretary of Labor), is charged by law with recommending federal pay adjustments to the President. Questions about federal pay comparability should be directed to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.


Last Modified Date: July 27, 2010