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National Compensation Measures: History

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was established in 1884. Throughout its history, it has consistently focused on collecting high-quality data for various aspects of the nation’s economy including the conditions of employee compensation.  Although the focus and scope of the compensation surveys has changed over time (owing to legislative direction, emerging trends, and requests from the data user community), BLS has provided information on employee compensation essentially since the beginning of BLS.  The first BLS study of occupational wages was conducted in 1885.

Historical timeline

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  • 1885 – The first BLS study of occupational wages is conducted and published in the "First Annual Report", 1886, Industrial Depressions
  • 1889 –"Fifth Annual Report", 1889, Railroad Labor is published and includes occupational wage statistics for 60 carriers
  • 1905 –"Nineteenth Annual Report", 1904, Wages and Hours of Labor is published and includes the occupational wages by industry results for 1890 through 1903.  Results were published for the next 4 years in the Bureau’s bimonthly bulletin
  • 1908–1912 – Hiatus in the compensation program occurs due to priority of other labor statistics
  • 1909 –"Twenty-third Annual Report,"1908, Workmen’s Insurance and Benefit Funds in the United States is published
  • 1911–12 – Condition of employment in the iron and steel industry is published as a Senate document
  • 1912 – Studies of union wage scales and hours of work in various industries are introduced and continued for almost 80 years
  • 1912 – Payroll-based series on Industrial Wages and Hours (in 12 industries) is introduced and conducted until 1933
  • 1920 – Annual wage index is introduced and conducted until 1934 
  • 1926 – Common Laborers Entrance Wage Rates survey is introduced and discontinued in the early 1940s
  • 1938–39 – Industry Wage Surveys are conducted in support of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
  • 1943 – Urban wage index is introduced and conducted until 1947
  • 1945 – Industry Wage Survey (IWS) is re-introduced and conducted until 1991
  • 1948 – Community Wage Survey is introduced and conducted until the mid- 1960s 
  • 1955 – “Digest of Selected Health and Insurance Plans” and “Digest of Selected Pension Plans” are introduced and conducted until 1979
  • 1959 – Employer Expenditures for Employee Compensation is introduced and conducted until 1977
  • 1960 – National Survey of Professional, Administrative, Technical and Clerical Pay (PATC) is introduced and conducted until 1991
  • Mid-1960s – Area Wage Survey (AWS) is introduced and conducted until 1991. It is a direct ancestor of NCS
  • 1967 – Service Contract Act Survey (SCA) is introduced and conducted until 1997
  • 1975 – Employment Cost Index (ECI) is introduced 
  • 1977 – Level of Benefits Survey (LOB) is introduced, and in 1979, moves into production as the Employee Benefit Survey (EBS)
  • 1979 – Employee Benefits Survey (EBS) is introduced
  • 1986 – Employer Costs for Employee Compensation (ECEC) is introduced
  • 1991 – Occupational Compensation Survey (OCS) is introduced merging the AWS, IWS, and PATC into a single survey and conducted until 1997
  • 1996 – COMP2000 is introduced merging the OCS, ECI/ECEC and EBS into a single survey
  • 2000 – COMP2000 is renamed the National Compensation Survey (NCS)

The NCS, introduced in 1996, collects a broad range of compensation data that formerly had been collected under three separate BLS programs. The Employment Cost Index (ECI) measures the change in labor costs over time. The Level of Benefit Survey (LOB) provided detailed information on employee benefits for survey years 1980 through 1998. The Employer Costs for Employee Compensation (ECEC) measures the level of average cost per employee hour worked.  The Occupational Compensation Survey (OCS) program published national and local area wage data for survey years 1991 through 1996.  

Data from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey and NCS programs are combined and provided to the President’s Pay Agent to meet the requirements of the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 (FEPCA). FEPCA established locality pay and the President’s Pay Agent designated locality pay areas based on Office of Management and Budget (OMB) statistical area definitions. The President’s Pay Agent advises the President on the issues of federal pay. It is made up of the Secretary of Labor and the directors of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), for more information see the Annual Report of the President’s Pay Agent.  A combination of NCS and OES data is used by the President’s Pay Agent to recommend adjustments in pay levels (in a report to the Federal Salary Council) of some federal workers.

Until 2011, the NCS published data on employee compensation from a large sample of establishments providing data on about 800 detailed occupations in more than 150 local areas.  With the enactment of the 2011 U.S. federal budget, the Locality Pay Survey (LPS) portion of the NCS was eliminated. Occupational estimates by locality are available through the OES program. This program produces employment and earnings estimates for over 800 occupations. These are available at the national, state, and local area level.

The OES and NCS programs have produced estimates by borrowing from each survey to provide more details on occupational wages. The Modeled Wage Estimates provide annual estimates of average hourly wages for occupations by selected job characteristics and within a geographical location. The job characteristics include bargaining status (union and nonunion), part- and full-time work status, incentive- and time-based pay, and work levels by occupation. For more information see the Modeled Wage Estimates homepage.

Major ECI milestones:

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Major ECEC milestones:

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Major benefits milestones:

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Last Modified Date: December 15, 2017