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Employee Benefits Survey
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Technical Note

Estimates in this release are from the National Compensation Survey (NCS), conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This publication contains March 2017 estimates on civilian, private industry, and state and local government workers in the United States. Workers in the civilian economy are defined as those employed in private industry and state and local government. Excluded from the civilian economy are workers employed in federal and quasi-federal agencies, military personnel, agricultural workers, volunteers, unpaid workers, individuals receiving long-term disability compensation, and those working overseas. In addition, private industry excludes workers in private households, the self-employed, workers who set their own pay (e.g., proprietors, owners, major stockholders, and partners in unincorporated firms), and family members paid token wages.

The NCS provides comprehensive measures of compensation cost levels and trends and also provides benefits incidence estimates on the percentage of workers with access to and participating in employer-provided benefit plans. The survey covers a broad range of benefits including holidays and vacations, sick leave, life insurance, and detailed provisions for health care and retirement plans. Archived NCS releases are available at

Calculation details

Average hourly earnings from sampled occupations within an establishment were used to produce estimates for worker groups within six earnings categories: the lowest 10 percent, the lowest 25 percent, the second 25 percent, the third 25 percent, the highest 25 percent, and the highest 10 percent. The categories are based on unpublished March 2017 wages and salaries from the Employer Costs for Employee Compensation.

The percentiles were computed using earnings and scheduled hours of work reported for individual workers in sampled establishment jobs. Establishments in the survey are asked to report only individual worker earnings for each sampled job. For the calculation of the hourly percentile values, the individual worker hourly earnings are weighted and arrayed from lowest to highest. The values corresponding to the percentiles are:

Characteristics Hourly wage percentiles
10 25 50
75 90
Civilian workers $10.00 $12.86 $19.23 $30.95 $47.02
Private industry workers $9.79 $12.25 $18.16 $29.44 $46.10
State and local government workers $13.19 $17.79 $26.50 $37.75 $51.18


The lowest 10-percent and 25-percent wage categories include those occupations with an average hourly wage less than the 10th percentile value and 25th percentile value, respectively. The second 25-percent category includes those occupations that make at or above the 25th percentile value but less than the 50th percentile value. The third 25-percent category includes those occupations that make at or above the 50th percentile value but less than the 75th percentile value. Finally, the highest 25- and 10-percent wage categories include those occupations with an average wage value greater than or equal to the 75th and 90th percentile value, respectively.

(Note: Individual workers can fall into an earnings category different from the average for the occupation into which they are classified because average hourly earnings for the occupation are used to produce the benefit estimates.)

For definitions of benefit terms, see the glossary.

Selected concepts and terms


Employees are considered to have access to a benefit plan if it is available for their use. For example, if an employee is permitted to participate in a medical care plan offered by the employer, but the employee declines to do so, he or she is placed in a category with those having access to medical care.


Employees in contributory plans are considered participants in an insurance or retirement plan if they have paid required contributions and fulfilled any applicable service requirements. Employees in noncontributory plans are counted as participating regardless of whether they have fulfilled the service requirements. (Note: Incidence can mean either access or rates of participation in a benefit plan.)

Take-up rates

Take-up rates are the percentage of workers with access to a plan who participate in the plan. They are computed by using the number of workers participating in a plan divided by the number of workers with access to the plan, multiplied by 100, and rounded to the nearest one percent. Since the computation of take-up rates is based on the number of workers collected rather than rounded percentage estimates, the take-up rates in the tables may not equal the ratio of participation to access estimates.

Comparing private and public sector data

Incidence of employee benefits in state and local government should not be directly compared to private industry. Differences between these sectors stem from factors such as variation in work activities and occupational structures. Manufacturing and sales, for example, make up a large part of private industry work activities but are rare in state and local government. Administrative support and professional occupations (including teachers) account for two-thirds of the state and local government workforce, compared with one-half of private industry.

Leave benefits for teachers

Primary, secondary, and special education teachers typically have a work schedule of 37 or 38 weeks per year. Because of this work schedule, they are generally not offered vacations or holidays. In many cases, the time off during winter and spring breaks during the school year are not considered vacation days for the purposes of this survey.

Medical care premiums

The estimates for medical care premiums are not based on actual decisions regarding medical coverage made by employees; instead they are based on the assumption that all employees in the occupation can opt for single or family coverage. Monthly premiums are collected when possible. Annual premiums are converted to monthly premiums by dividing by 12 months.

Retirement plans

Differences in retirement plan participation are influenced by type of plan offered. In defined benefit plans participation is often mandatory, after meeting eligibility requirements, while participation in defined contribution plans is often voluntary.

Sample rotation

The state and local government sample was replaced in its entirety for the March 2017 reference period. It was last replaced with the March 2007 reference period. The government sample is replaced less frequently than the private industry sample. One-third of the private industry sample is rotated each year except in years when the government sample is replaced.

Sample size

See appendix table 1.

Survey scope

See appendix table 2.

Geographic areas

The census regions are defined as follows:
Northeast: New England and Middle Atlantic
South: South Atlantic, East South Central, and West South Central
Midwest: East North Central and West North Central
West: Mountain and Pacific

The census divisions are defined as follows:
New England: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont
Middle Atlantic: New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania
South Atlantic: Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia
East South Central: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee
West South Central: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas
East North Central: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin
West North Central: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota
Mountain: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
Pacific: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington

Additional information:

For research articles on employee benefits, see the Monthly Labor Review at and Beyond the Numbers: Pay and Benefits at For further technical information, see Chapter 8, "National Compensation Measures," of the BLS Handbook of Methods at