Occupational Employment and Wages Technical Note

Technical Note

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 650 areas,
including states and the District of Columbia, metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs),
metropolitan divisions, nonmetropolitan areas, and territories; national industry-
specific estimates at the NAICS sector, 3-, 4-, and selected 5- and 6-digit industry
levels; and national estimates by ownership across all industries and for schools and

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 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 2017 estimates are based on responses
from six semiannual panels collected over a 3-year period: May 2017, November 2016,
May 2016, November 2015, May 2015, and November 2014. The overall national response
rate for the six panels, based on the 50 states and the District of Columbia, is 72
percent based on establishments and 68 percent based on weighted sampled employment.
The unweighted sampled employment of 82 million across all six semiannual panels
represents approximately 58 percent of total national 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

The industry coding system

The May 2017 OES estimates use the 2017 North American Industry Classification
System (NAICS). For more information about NAICS, see the BLS website at

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.

Survey sample

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 reimbursements.

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 is reported.

Estimation methodology

The OES survey is designed to produce estimates by combining six panels of data
collected over a 3-year period. Each OES panel includes approximately 200,000
establishments. The full six-panel sample of nearly 1.2 million establishments
allows the production of estimates at detailed levels of geography, industry, and

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 current panel 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 2016 and May 2017 employment) from the BLS
Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages to employment totals from the OES survey.

Changes to the May 2017 estimates

The May 2017 OES estimates are the first to be based on the 2017 North American 
Industry Classification System, which replaces the 2012 NAICS used in the May 2012-
May 2016 estimates. All six panels used in the May 2017 estimates were collected
using the 2012 NAICS; these data were mapped to the 2017 NAICS codes.

Beginning with the May 2017 estimates, OES has replaced 21 detailed occupations with
10 aggregations of those occupations. In most cases, occupations were aggregated to
the SOC broad occupation level. The remaining aggregations do not correspond to SOC
broad occupations and use OES-specific codes and titles. The purpose of these
aggregations is to achieve more robust estimates by combining similar occupations
for which the survey does not have the information needed to distinguish between
occupations for accurate coding.

In addition, some 4- and 5-digit NAICS industries that OES previously published are
no longer published separately. Some of these industries are now published at their
standard 3- and 4-digit NAICS levels, respectively. Others are published as OES-
specific industry aggregations. The new industry aggregations will improve sampling
efficiency by combining industries with similar staffing patterns.

For more information about the new aggregations, see www.bls.gov/oes/changes_2017.htm.

The May 2017 estimates include additional establishments in the services for the
elderly and persons with disabilities industry (NAICS 624120). In May 2013, the
Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program, from which the OES sample is
drawn, began coding some establishments that were historically found in private
households (NAICS 814110) to services for the elderly and persons with disabilities
(NAICS 624120). Private households are out of scope for OES, so this shift caused a
scope increase for OES in NAICS 624120. These newly in-scope units were removed from
the survey data and not used for the May 2015 and May 2016 estimates. OES now has
six panels of survey data collected under the new scope, so the May 2017 estimates
include the full set of establishments from the expanded scope of NAICS 624120 for
the first time.

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.

Table of Contents

Last Modified Date: March 30, 2018