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April 1982, Vol. 105, No. 4
Usual weekly earnings: another look at
intergroup differences and basic trends
Earl F. Mellor and George D. Stamas
Interest in earnings differences among various population groupsmen and women, blacks and whites, young and oldhas grown over the years since data on usual weekly earnings were first published in the Review a decade ago. Because of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has expanded the collection and publication of the demographically oriented data on weekly and hourly earnings from the Current Population Survey (CPS). Previously collected only in May of each year, these data are now obtained monthly from one-fourth of the CPS sample and are published on a quarterly basis.1
Aggregation of the new data into annual averages yields the most reliable measures of the earnings differences among the various population groups. At the same time, the quarterly data, although subject to lower statistical reliability,2 give at least a broad indication of how the earnings of the various demographic groups are affected by cyclical (or short-term) changes in economic conditions. This article focuses first on the annual average data for 1981 to re-examine the intergroup differences in earnings among both full- and part-time workers and then looks at some of the quarterly data to see how the earnings of the various groups have been changing over time. Other articles in this issue, by Nancy F. Rytina and Sylvia Lazos Terry, deal more specifically with the relationship of pay to race, sex, occupational tenure, and work experience.
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1 Quarterly data on weekly earnings from the CPS have been available since early 1979 and are published in a press release entitled "Weekly Earnings of Workers and Their Families." The release is available free of charge from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Before 1979, roughly comparable data on weekly earnings by demographic group were collected each May from 1967 to 1978, except for 1968. The data were published in press releases and occasional articles in the Monthly Labor Review. The first such article was Paul O. Flaim and Nicholas I. Peters, "Usual weekly earnings of American workers," Monthly Labor Review, March 1972, pp. 28-38. The most recent was Janice N. Hedges and Earl F. Mellor, "Weekly and hourly earnings of U.S. workers, 1967-78," Monthly Labor Review, August 1979, pp. 31-41.
The switch from annual to more frequent collection of earnings data in the CPS was made after two methodological tests indicated it was feasible to collect these data more often and that they would meet BLS standards of statistical reliability. The most important test was conducted in January 1977, when information on the earnings of about 4,000 workers was obtained directly from them or from members of their households and was then compared with information from their respective employers. Median hourly earnings for workers paid at hourly rates were $3.53 on the basis of the household reports and $3.64 on the basis of the employer reportsa difference of 11 cents or 3 percent. Median weekly earnings (excluding tips or commissions) were $170.24 on the basis of the household reports and $179.50 on the basis of the employer reports, for a difference of $9.26 or 5 percent. See Larry Carstensen and Henry Woltman, "Comparing Earnings Data From the CPS and Employer Records," Proceedings of the Social Statistics Section, 1979 (Washington, American Statistical Association, 1979), pp. 168-74.
2 For detailed information with regard to the reliability and other technical aspects of the quarterly earnings data from the CPS, see Earl F. Mellor, Technical Description of the Quarterly Data on Weekly Earnings From the Current Population Survey, Bulletin 2113 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1982).
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