National Compensation Measures: Collections & Data Sources

The National Compensation Survey (NCS) uses Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) field economists to collect compensation data from survey respondents. Field economists employ a variety of collection methods, including personal visits, mail, telephone, and email, after undergoing extensive training. Field economists do not use a paper or online questionnaire to collect these data; instead, they rely on a conversational interview and descriptive documents, such as task lists, to collect cost, coverage, and provision data from respondents. The NCS is a voluntary establishment-based survey. At the initial and subsequent contacts, field economists attempt to gather the following information from respondents:

  • Primary business activity of the establishment. The field economist determines the correct North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry code for the establishment.
  • A list of employees or job titles and employee counts. With an employee list, the field economist uses equal probability sampling to select a sampled job, for which each name on the list has an equal chance of selection. With the job titles and employee counts, the field economist is using probability proportional-to-size sampling, that is, the greater the number of employees in an occupation within the establishment the greater chance the occupation will be selected. 
  • Number of employees in each sampled job. The field economist determines the number of employees matching the sampled job based on occupational description.
  • Work attributes for the workers in the sampled job. The field economist determines the worker attributes of the employees: bargaining status, work status, and time- or incentive-based pay.
  • Wages and salaries for sampled job. The field economist collects data on wages and salaries from the payroll records covering the 12⁠th of the reference month.
  • Tasks, knowledge required, the controls and complexity, the contacts, and the environmental conditions for the job. The field economist collects this information to determine the work level of the job.For more information on work levels, see National Compensation Survey: Guide for Evaluating Your Firm’s Jobs and Pay.
  • The number of typical hours employees work. The field economist collects data on the usual work schedule of each sampled, matched occupation. This information helps to determine the employee’s hourly, weekly, and annual earnings, as well as the employer’s cost of benefits.
  • Availability of employer-sponsored benefits. The field economists collect and analyze summary plan descriptions of the health and retirement plans offered by the employer.
  • Employer cost of benefits provided. The field economist determines eligible employees’ benefit usage. Field economists calculate the employer cost based on the type of benefit. Employer costs for hours-based (wage-related) benefits, such as paid leave, directly relate to wages and salaries. For hours-based benefits, the field economist collects information on the number of hours or days of the benefit used by workers in sampled jobs. The field economist then multiplies this number by the company contribution or compensation rate and divides by total occupational employment to calculate cost. Where employer contributions are not directly linked to hours and wages, (for example, insurance), for these benefits the field economist collects information for plan participants.
  • Changes to plan provisions or costs may cause changes in benefit usage. This change in usage, induced usage, is captured by field economists during collection updates, and is separate from the usage figured captured at the time of initiation.

Collection period

A BLS field economist contacts the sampled establishment for the initial collection of data for the NCS. From each sampled establishment, the Field economist collects data on wages, the cost of benefits, and the incidence and provisions of benefits. BLS uses these data to produce ECI, ECEC, and estimates on cost, coverage, and provisions of benefits. BLS conducts ECI and ECEC updates over a 6-week period for the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month for the reference periods of March, June, September, and December.

Confidentiality agreement

All data collected in the NCS are subject to the BLS confidentiality requirements that prevent the disclosure of identifying information. Data collected from the NCS are used solely for statistical purposes. BLS has a strict confidentiality policy, which ensures that the survey sample composition, lists of reporters, and names of respondents will be kept confidential. In addition, the policy assures respondents that published figures will not reveal the identity of any specific respondent and will not allow the data of any specific respondent to be identified. Each published estimate is screened to ensure that it meets these confidentiality requirements, see Confidentiality of Data Collected by BLS for Statistical Purposes for additional information.

Last Modified Date: December 15, 2017