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Employee Benefits Survey
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Technical Note

Interpreting the estimates

Comparing private and public sector data

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.

Measures of reliability

To assist users in ascertaining the reliability of benefits estimates, standard errors are made available with publication of the bulletin. Standard errors provide users a measure of the precision of an estimate to ensure that it is within an acceptable range for its intended purpose.

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.

Calculations for average wage categories

Estimates by worker average wage are grouped into six wage 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 The categories use percentile values based on unpublished March 2018 wages and salaries from the BLS Employer Costs for Employee Compensation publication.

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

Characteristics Average hourly wage percentiles
10 25 50
(median)
75 90

Civilian

$10.28 $13.18 $19.87 $31.55 $47.78

Private industry

$10.00 $12.75 $18.78 $30.08 $46.73

State and local government

$13.47 $18.14 $26.94 $38.41 $52.36

Individual workers can fall into a wage category different from the average for the occupation into which they are classified because average hourly wages for the occupation are used to produce the benefit estimates.

Interpreting the tables

All estimates shown in the table are based on the set of workers specified in the statement underneath the table title and on any subsets indicated by column headers. For example, the statement may indicate that "All workers = 100 percent" or "All workers with paid sick leave = 100 percent."

Benefit terms

For definitions of benefit terms, see the Glossary of Employee Benefit Terms at www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/national-compensation-survey-glossary-of-employee-benefit-terms.htm. Major terms for this bulletin include:

Access

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.

Participation

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.

Medical care benefits

Medical care benefits provide services or payments for services rendered in the hospital or by a qualified medical care provider.

Sample rotation

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

Sample size

See appendix table 1.

Survey scope

See appendix table 2. Workers in the civilian economy are defined in the survey 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.

Survey methods

For technical information on survey methods, see "National Compensation Measures," in the BLS Handbook of Methods at www.bls.gov/opub/hom/ncs/home.htm. The Concepts section of the Handbook provides definitions for worker and establishment characteristics, including geographic areas.

Additional information

For BLS research articles on employee benefits, see the Monthly Labor Review at www.bls.gov/opub/mlr, Beyond the Numbers at www.bls.gov/opub/btn, and The Economics Daily at www.bls.gov/opub/ted.