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National Compensation Survey
NCS NCS Program Links

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


General FAQs

What are modeled wage estimates?

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) and National Compensation Survey (NCS) programs have produced estimates by borrowing from the strength and breath of each survey to provide more details on occupational wages than either program provides individually. The Modeled Wage Estimates provide annual estimates of average hourly wages for occupations by selected job characteristics and within geographical location. The job characteristics include bargaining status (union and nonunion), part- and full-time work status, incentive and time-base pay, and work levels by occupation.

How do modeled wage estimates differ from “direct” estimates?

Direct estimates are based on survey responses only from the particular geographic area to which the estimate refers. In contrast, modeled wage estimates use survey responses from larger areas to fill in information for smaller areas where the sample size is not sufficient to produce direct estimates. Modeled wage estimate require the assumption that the patterns to responses in the larger area hold in the smaller area.

Is this a new survey?

No, the existing OES and NCS surveys’ data are used to calculate modeled wage estimates for civilian workers by occupations within areas (nation, state, metropolitan, and nonmetropolitan), by job characteristics, and work levels.

The sample size for the NCS is not large enough to produce direct estimates by area, occupation, and job characteristic for all of the areas for which the OES publishes estimates by area and occupation. The NCS collected data, at initial interview, are from a probability sample of 6,900 private industry establishments and about 1,500 state and local government establishments for March 2016. The OES full six-panel sample consists of nearly 1.2 million establishments.

What areas are used to model the relationship between wages and the job characteristics?

Twenty-four areas are used in the NCS sample design. They consist of the 15 largest metropolitan areas, based on employment size, plus the balance of the nine census divisions.

The 15 metropolitan areas are: Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, GA-AL CSA; Boston-Worcester-Manchester, MA-NH CSA; Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City, IL-IN-WI CSA; Dallas-Fort Worth, TX CSA; Detroit-Warren-Flint, MI CSA; Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, TX CSA; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, CA CSA; Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL MSA; Minneapolis-St. Paul-St. Cloud, MN-WI CSA; New York-Newark-Bridgeport, NY-NJ-CT-PA CSA; Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland, PA-NJ-DE-MD CSA; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ MSA; San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA CSA; Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia, WA CSA; and Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, DC-MD-VA-WV CSA.

The 9 census divisions area: New England, Middle Atlantic, South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central, West South Central, East North Central, West North Central, Mountain, and Pacific.

Therefore, in the calculation of the modeled estimates, the relationships between wage rates and the job characteristics from the larger NCS sample area are assumed to hold in all of the smaller areas that the larger area contains.

For a listing of areas covered by the OES for May 2015 estimates, see

How are the modeled wage estimates calculated?

The method for calculating modeled wage estimates by job characteristics follows essentially the procedures and formula that the OES program uses to calculate its estimates, with an additional step to incorporate job characteristics and worker levels from the NCS program.

For example, the wage rates of workers are typically reported as grouped data across 12 consecutive, non-overlapping wage intervals by the OES program. Data from the NCS program are then used to calculate mean wage rates for these intervals and thereby produce modeled wage estimates and published as mean hourly wages. The extra step needed to produce the modeled wage estimates for the job characteristics is to allocate the OES employment by wage interval on the basis of proportions for the job characteristics from the NCS data. These proportions are calculated for the 24 NCS sample areas, where the modeling assumptions are incorporated.

Will modeled wage estimates be published at the same level of detail as OES?

No, modeled wage estimates will include additional detail where there is sufficient sample to meet publication criteria. There are three components to the publication criteria: (1) there must be sufficient OES data to support a published estimate for the occupation in the area, (2) there must be sufficient NCS data for the area, occupation, job characteristic, and work level to support the published estimate, and (3) the NCS–OES wage estimate for the area, occupation, job characteristic, and work level must fit broadly within expectations based on the patterns of compensation data.

How are civilian workers defined?

Modeled wage estimates follow the NCS definition of civilian workers, that is the combination of private industry and state and local government workers. It excludes federal government, self-employed, agriculture sector, and private household workers.

Do modeled wage estimates include industry details?

Modeled wage estimates are only being produced for civilian workers only. There is no further breakdown of the estimates by industry.

What are job characteristics?

Job characteristics include worker bargaining status (union and nonunion), part- and full-time work status, and incentive- and time-based pay.

How are work levels determined?

The NCS field economist collecting data use a 4 point factor leveling guide, which assigns points for knowledge, job controls and complexity, contacts (nature and purpose), and the physical environment of the selected job. The points for each factor are totaled and the work level determined based on the total number of points. There are 15 work levels although some jobs cannot be leveled. For more information on leveling, see NCS: Guide for Evaluating Your Firm's Jobs and Pay.

What is the reference year of the published estimates?

Modeled wage estimates for the 2014 and 2015 reference years are available through the database query tools at

Are these estimates a time series?

No. Just like the OES estimates, modeled wage estimates are point in time estimates.

Are measures of reliability available for these estimates?

Measures of reliability will not be available with the first sets of estimates. Standard errors are being developed for future estimate releases.

Where do I find articles that further explain modeled wage estimates?

The articles linked below provide valuable information regarding the approach to pairing OES and NCS data to produce modeled wage estimates and the efforts to validate the estimates.

Wage estimates by job characteristic: NCS and OES program data.

Revisiting the dilemma of review for modeled wage estimates by job characteristic.

Are annual mean wages available?

No. Only mean hourly wages are available from the modeled wage estimates.

What areas are estimated?

The modeled wage estimates use the same publication areas as the OES (nationwide, statewide, Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), Census divisions, balance of state areas (BOS), and New England City and Town Areas (NECTAs)) to conform to the OES sample design. Modeled wage estimates are not produced for Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Where do I find wages for occupations where the OES only publishes annual mean wages?

Wages for some occupations that do not generally work year-round, full time, are reported by OES either as hourly wages or annual salaries depending on how they are typically paid. For instances where OES only publishes annual mean wages (e.g., legislators, teachers, pilots, flight attendants) the mean hourly wages are not available from modeled wage estimates.

What data are available through the NCS and OES program?

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual States, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas; national occupational estimates for specific industries are also available.

The National Compensation Survey (NCS) program produces the Employment Cost Index (ECI) that measures changes in labor costs. Average hourly costs for employee compensation is presented in the Employer Costs for Employee Compensation (ECEC) series. The NCS also provides benefits incidence data on the percentage of workers with access to and participating in employer provided benefit plans.


Last Modified Date: May 25, 2016