Scope of the survey
The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey is a semiannual survey measuring occupational
employment and wage rates for wage and salary workers in nonfarm establishments in the United
States. The OES data available from BLS include cross-industry occupational employment and wage
estimates for the nation; over 580 areas, including states and the District of Columbia, metropolitan
statistical areas (MSAs), nonmetropolitan areas, and territories; national industry-specific
estimates at the NAICS sector, 3-digit, most 4-digit, and selected 5- and 6-digit industry levels;
and national estimates by ownership across all industries and for schools and hospitals.
The OES survey is a cooperative effort between BLS and the State Workforce Agencies (SWAs). BLS
funds the survey and provides the procedures and technical support, while the State Workforce
Agencies collect most of the data. OES estimates are constructed from a sample of about 1.2
million establishments. Each year, two semiannual panels of approximately 180,000 to 200,000
sampled establishments are contacted, one panel in May and the other in November. Responses are
obtained by mail, Internet or other electronic means, email, telephone, or personal visit. The
May 2018 estimates are based on responses from six semiannual panels collected over a 3-year
period: May 2018, November 2017, May 2017, November 2016, May 2016, and November 2015. The
unweighted sampled employment of 83 million across all six semiannual panels represents
approximately 58 percent of total national employment. The overall national response rate for
the six panels, based on the 50 states and the District of Columbia, is 71 percent based on
establishments and 68 percent based on weighted sampled employment.
The occupational coding system
The OES survey categorizes workers into 810 detailed occupations based on the Office of Management
and Budget's 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Together, these detailed
occupations make up 22 of the 23 SOC major occupational groups. Major group 55, Military Specific
Occupations, is not included.
For more information about the SOC system, please see the BLS website at www.bls.gov/soc/.
The industry coding system
The May 2018 OES estimates use the 2017 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). For
more information about NAICS, see the BLS website at www.bls.gov/bls/naics.htm.
The OES survey excludes the majority of the agricultural sector, with the exception of logging
(NAICS 113310), support activities for crop production (NAICS 1151), and support activities for
animal production (NAICS 1152). Private households (NAICS 814) also are excluded. OES federal
government data include the U.S. Postal Service and the federal executive branch only. All other
industries, including state and local government, are covered by the survey.
The OES survey draws its sample from state unemployment insurance (UI) files. Supplemental sources
are used for rail transportation (NAICS 4821) and Guam because they do not report to the UI program.
The OES survey sample is stratified by metropolitan and nonmetropolitan area, industry, and size.
To provide the most occupational coverage, larger employers are more likely to be selected than
smaller employers. A census is taken of the executive branch of the federal government, the U.S.
Postal Service, and state government.
Occupational employment is the estimate of total wage and salary employment in an occupation. The
OES survey defines employment as the number of workers who can be classified as full- or part-time
employees, including workers on paid vacations or other types of paid leave; workers on unpaid
short-term absences; salaried officers, executives, and staff members of incorporated firms;
employees temporarily assigned to other units; and employees for whom the reporting unit is their
permanent duty station, regardless of whether that unit prepares their paycheck. The survey does
not include the self-employed, owners and partners in unincorporated firms, household workers, or
unpaid family workers.
Wages for the OES survey are straight-time, gross pay, exclusive of premium pay. Base rate; cost-
of-living allowances; guaranteed pay; hazardous-duty pay; incentive pay, including commissions
and production bonuses; and tips are included. Excluded are overtime pay, severance pay, shift
differentials, nonproduction bonuses, employer cost for supplementary benefits, and tuition
OES receives wage rate data for the federal government, the U.S. Postal Service, and most state
governments. For the remaining establishments, the OES survey data are placed into 12 intervals.
The intervals are defined both as hourly rates and the corresponding annual rates, where the
annual rate for an occupation is calculated by multiplying the hourly wage rate by a typical
work year of 2,080 hours. The responding establishments are instructed to report the hourly rate
for part-time workers, and to report annual rates for occupations that are typically paid at
an annual rate but do not work 2,080 hours per year, such as teachers, pilots, and flight
attendants. Other workers, such as some entertainment workers, are paid hourly rates, but
generally do not work 40 hours per week, year round. For these workers, only an hourly wage
The OES survey is designed to produce estimates by combining six panels of data collected over
a 3-year period. Each OES panel contains approximately 180,000 to 200,000 establishments. Recent
OES survey panels have a reduced sample; see the “Changes to the May 2018 estimates” section
below for more information. The full six-panel sample of nearly 1.2 million establishments
allows the production of estimates at detailed levels of geography, industry, and occupation.
Wage updating. Significant reductions in sampling errors are obtained by combining six panels
of data, particularly for small geographic areas and occupations. Wages for the current panel
need no adjustment. However, wages in the five previous panels need to be updated to the current
panel's reference period.
The OES program uses the BLS Employment Cost Index (ECI) to adjust survey data from prior panels
before combining them with the current panel's data. The wage updating procedure adjusts each
detailed occupation's wage rate, as measured in the earlier panel, according to the average
movement of its broader occupational division.
Imputation. Some establishments do not respond for a given panel. For most employers, a “nearest
neighbor” hot deck imputation procedure is used to impute missing occupational employment totals.
A variant of mean imputation is used to impute missing wage distributions. In some cases, data
for nonrespondents are available from earlier panels. In those cases, the older data may be used
and aged to represent the current reference period.
Weighting and benchmarking. The sampled establishments are weighted to represent all establishments
for the reference period. Weights are further adjusted by the ratio of employment totals (the average
of November 2017 and May 2018 employment) from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages to
employment totals from the OES survey.
Changes to the May 2018 estimates
The OES sample has been reduced in recent survey panels. The November 2017 and May 2018 OES survey
panels each had a sample of approximately 186,000 establishments. The May 2017 panel sample consisted
of approximately 195,000 establishments, and the November 2016, May 2016, and November 2015 survey
panels each consisted of approximately 200,000 establishments.
With the publication of the May 2018 estimates, the OES program has made changes to the metropolitan
and nonmetropolitan area data. OES continues to publish data for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan
areas that cover the full geography of the United States. However, the level of detail available has
Elimination of metropolitan division data. OES no longer publishes data for the metropolitan divisions
within the 11 large metropolitan areas that are further broken down into divisions. Data for these 11
areas are available at the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or New England City and Town Area (NECTA)
level only. For a list of metropolitan divisions and the corresponding MSAs/NECTAs, see
Consolidation of some nonmetropolitan areas. Some nonmetropolitan areas published in the May 2017
estimates have been combined to form larger nonmetropolitan areas. The May 2018 estimates contain data
for 134 nonmetropolitan areas, compared with 167 nonmetropolitan areas in the May 2017 estimates. For
a list of the 2018 nonmetropolitan areas, see www.bls.gov/oes/nonmet_2018.xlsx.
A spreadsheet showing all of the new area definitions and names used for the May 2018 OES estimates
is available at www.bls.gov/oes/area_definitions_2018.xlsx.
For more information
Answers to frequently asked questions about the OES data are available at www.bls.gov/oes/oes_ques.htm.
Detailed technical information about the OES survey is available in the Survey Methods and Reliability
Statement on the BLS website at www.bls.gov/oes/current/methods_statement.pdf.