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National Compensation Survey - Wages

OCSP Early History

Surveys in the 1800's
For over a century, BLS has conducted studies of wages by occupation and industry. The best known of the early Bureau studies stemmed from a Senate resolution of March 3, 1891, which instructed its Committee on Finance to investigate the effects of tariff legislation on wages and prices. At the request of the committee, the Bureau developed detailed data for 1889-91, a more limited wage rate history extending back to 1860, and in some cases to 1840.

From 1900 through the Depression
BLS continued to collect regular surveys of wage data by occupation and industry after the turn of the century. Changes in survey coverage were dictated mainly by Federal government data needs. Thus, a large survey program undertaken for the War Industries Board in 1919 produced occupational pay rates by industry, State, and (for some industries) by city. Between 1934 and 1940, the selection of industries studied was determined largely by administrative needs under the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Public Contracts Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, with emphasis on nationwide data for relatively low-wage industries.

Statistics Support the War Effort
In the early 1940's, BLS survey activity shifted to heavy industries essential to war production. Implementation of wage stabilization policy during the war required a large-scale program of occupational wage studies by industry and locality. After 1945, the emphasis on local data continued with industry studies generally designed to yield both national and regional estimates for occupations unique to specific industries.


Last Modified Date: October 16, 2001