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Handbook of Methods Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics Concepts

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics: Concepts

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program is the only comprehensive source of regularly produced occupational employment and wage rate information for the U.S. economy. The scope comprises the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas covering the entire United States.

The following are definitions of the key concepts used in the OEWS program.

Unit of observation

The OEWS survey measures occupational employment and wage rates for wage and salary workers in nonfarm establishments in the United States. An establishment is generally a single physical location at which economic activity occurs (e.g., store, factory, restaurant, etc.). When a single physical location encompasses two or more distinct economic activities, it is treated as two or more separate establishments if separate payroll records are available and certain other criteria are met.

Classification systems

The OEWS survey uses the Standard Occupational Classification system to classify workers into occupations and the North American Industry Classification System to classify establishments into industries.

The occupational coding system

The OEWS survey categorizes workers into occupations based on the Office of Management and Budget’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. The SOC system is used by federal statistical agencies to classify workers and jobs into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, analyzing, or disseminating data. Employees are assigned to an occupation based on the work they perform and not on their education or training. For example, an employee trained as an engineer but working as a drafter is reported as a drafter. Employees who perform the duties of two or more occupations are reported in the occupation that requires the highest level of skill or in the occupation where the most time is spent if there is no measurable difference in skill requirements. Working supervisors (those spending 20 percent or more of their time doing work similar to that of the workers they supervise) are classified with the workers they supervise. Workers receiving on-the-job training, apprentices, and trainees are classified with the occupations for which they are being trained. For more information about the SOC system, please see the BLS SOC website.

The industry coding system

The OEWS estimates use the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The NAICS is used throughout the federal government to group establishments into industries based on the goods or services they produce. The NAICS has a hierarchical structure with several levels of industry detail: by broad industrial sectors, subsectors (3-digit NAICS levels), industry groups (4-digit NAICS levels), and NAICS industries (5- and 6-digit NAICS levels). For more information about NAICS, see the BLS NAICS website.


OEWS classifies most government-owned establishments differently from the standard NAICS. The NAICS classifies government establishments according to their primary function and includes detailed industries within sector 92 Public Administration. Under the standard NAICS system, government establishments in NAICS sector 92 generally oversee governmental programs and activities that are not performed by private establishments, while government establishments producing goods and services similar to those typically identified with private-sector establishments should be classified in the same industry as private-sector establishments engaged in similar activities.

The OEWS program classifies some government establishments differently and therefore does not use NAICS sector 92. Instead, the OEWS survey produces occupational employment and wage estimates at the federal, state, and local government levels and denotes them with industry codes 9991, 9992, and 9993, respectively.

The OEWS state and local government data (NAICS 9992 and 9993) consist of all state and local government establishments, except schools, hospitals, and local government gambling establishments and casino hotels. State and local government schools and hospitals and local government gambling establishments and casino hotels are classified in their respective NAICS industries, along with similar private sector establishments. Estimates for schools and hospitals are available for private, state, and local government ownerships combined, as well as by individual ownership types. State and local government data including schools, hospitals, and local government gambling establishments and casino hotels are also available as part of the cross-industry ownership estimates.

OEWS federal government data include the federal executive branch, U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and (since 2010) the Tennessee Valley Authority only. The judicial and legislative branches of the federal government are not covered. OEWS federal government data (NAICS 9991) consist of the federal executive branch and TVA; USPS data are in NAICS 491100 Postal Service. Data for the federal executive branch, USPS, and TVA combined are also available in the cross-industry ownership estimates.

Area definitions

The OEWS program uses the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) definitions provided by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). For the New England states, OEWS uses the New England City and Town Area (NECTA) definitions instead of the MSA definitions. Nonmetropolitan areas are specific to the OEWS program and are set with guidance from our state program offices. The nonmetropolitan areas cover all counties that are not part of an OMB-defined metropolitan area.

Key concepts and definitions

Employment represents the estimated number of full- and part-time jobs in an occupation. The OEWS survey covers full- and part-time wage and salary employees in nonfarm industries, including employees on paid vacations or other types of paid leave; salaried officers, executives, and staff members of incorporated firms; employees temporarily assigned to other units; and noncontract employees for whom the reporting unit is their permanent duty station, regardless of whether that unit prepares their paychecks.

Self-employed workers, owners and partners in unincorporated firms, household workers, and unpaid family workers are not covered by the OEWS survey.

Wages are money that is paid or received for work or services performed in a specified period. Wages for the OEWS survey are straight-time, gross pay, exclusive of premium pay. Base rate pay; cost-of-living allowances; guaranteed pay; hazardous-duty pay; incentive pay, including commissions and production bonuses; and tips are included. Excluded are back pay, jury duty pay, overtime pay, severance pay, shift differentials, nonproduction bonuses, employer cost for supplementary benefits, and tuition reimbursements.

OEWS receives individual wage rate data for the federal government, the U.S. Postal Service, and most state governments. For the remaining establishments, the OEWS survey data are placed into 12 intervals. Wage intervals are updated periodically based on the wages in the labor market. 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.

Table 1. OEWS wage intervals, November 2019–May 2020 panels
Interval Wages
Hourly wage Annual wage

Range A

Under $9.25 Under $19,240

Range B

9.25 – 11.99 19,240 – 24,959

Range C

12.00 – 15.49 24,960 – 32,239

Range D

15.50 – 19.74 32,240 – 41,079

Range E

19.75 – 25.49 41,080 – 53,039

Range F

25.50 – 32.74 53,040 – 68,119

Range G

32.75 – 41.99 68,120 – 87,359

Range H

42.00 – 53.99 87,360 – 112,319

Range I

54.00 – 69.49 112,320 – 144,559

Range J

69.50 – 89.49 144,560 – 186,159

Range K

89.50 – 114.99 186,160 – 239,199

Range L

115.00 and over 239,200 and over

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

Data for the November 2017–May 2019 survey panels were collected using the wage intervals shown in table 2:

Table 2. OEWS wage intervals, November 2017–May 2019 panels
Interval Wages
Hourly wage Annual wage

Range A

Under $9.25 Under $19,240

Range B

9.25 – 11.74 19,240 – 24,439

Range C

11.75 – 14.74 24,440 – 30,679

Range D

14.75 – 18.74 30,680 – 38,999

Range E

18.75 – 23.99 39,000 – 49,919

Range F

24.00 – 30.24 49,920 – 62,919

Range G

30.25 – 38.49 62,920 – 80,079

Range H

38.50 – 48.99 80,080 – 101,919

Range I

49.00 – 61.99 101,920 – 128,959

Range J

62.00 – 78.74 128,960 – 163,799

Range K

78.75 – 99.99 163,800 – 207,999

Range L

100.00 and over 208,000 and over

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

Scope and exclusions

The OEWS survey measures employment and wages by occupation for wage and salary employees in nonfarm establishments. The survey excludes most of the agricultural sector, private household employers, and the self-employed.

Scope of the survey

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey is a semiannual survey measuring occupational employment and wage rates for wage and salary workers in nonfarm establishments in the United States. The OEWS 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.

Occupation exclusions

The OEWS survey categorizes workers into occupations based on the Office of Management and Budget’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Together, these occupations make up 22 of the 23 SOC major occupational groups. Major group 55, Military Specific Occupations, is not included.

Ownership exclusions

With the exception of schools, hospitals, gambling establishments, and casino hotels, industry-specific estimates only include privately owned establishments. Schools and hospitals owned by state and local governments and casino hotels and gambling establishments owned by local governments are included with privately owned establishments in the estimates for the appropriate NAICS code.

Industry coverage and exclusions

The OEWS 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. OEWS 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. Industries that fall within the OEWS scope are shown in exhibit 1.

 Exhibit 1. NAICS industry sectors covered in OEWS
Industry code Industry title


Logging (1133), support activities for crop production (1151), and support activities for animal production (1152) only










Wholesale trade


Retail trade


Transportation and warehousing




Finance and insurance


Real estate and rental and leasing


Professional, scientific, and technical services


Management of companies and enterprises


Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services


Educational services


Healthcare and social assistance


Arts, entertainment, and recreation


Accommodation and food services


Other services, except public administration (private households 814 are excluded)

999100 ⁠[1]

Federal government executive branch

999200 ⁠[1]

State government

999300 ⁠[1]

Local government

⁠[1] OEWS-defined industry code that is not part of the NAICS.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.

Additional information about the May 2020 estimates

Because each set of OEWS estimates is produced by combining 3 years of survey data, the May 2020 estimates do not fully reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using 3 years of data to produce each set of estimates allows data to be produced at very detailed levels of occupation, geography, and industry, but also means that sudden changes in staffing patterns or wages are reflected in the OEWS estimates only gradually. Detailed information about the OEWS 3-year methodology is available in the Data Sources, Design, and Calculation sections of this Handbook of Methods chapter.

The May 2020 employment and wage estimates were calculated using data collected in the May 2020, November 2019, May 2019, November 2018, May 2018, and November 2017 semiannual panels. Because five of the six survey panels used to produce the estimates date from before the COVID-19 pandemic, only the most recent (May 2020) survey panel reflects changes in occupational proportions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The employment from the six panels has been benchmarked to the average of the November 2019 and May 2020 employment from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) for each industry/area cell. The November 2019 QCEW employment data precede the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore do not reflect the effects of the pandemic. The May 2020 QCEW data reflect the early employment effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the OEWS employment estimates are benchmarked to the average of QCEW employment for November 2019 and May 2020, the estimates will reflect only part of the pandemic’s impact on employment as of May 2020.

In addition, as a result of the pandemic, response rates for the November 2019 and May 2020 panels were lower in some areas. This is due to the timing of attempts to collect data from employers during the months following both reference dates. Lower response rates may negatively affect data availability and data quality. To minimize the impact, a supplemental nonresponse follow-up mailing and additional targeted nonresponse follow-up were conducted. To reduce follow-up questions from sampled establishments, the OEWS program made changes on the data collection website to clarify that establishments where all employees were working remotely, or were not working but received pay, should report their employment and wage data.

With the May 2019 estimates, the OEWS program began implementing the revised 2018 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Because the May 2019 and May 2020 estimates are based on a combination of survey data collected using the 2010 SOC and survey data collected using the 2018 SOC, these estimates use a hybrid of the two classification systems that contains some combinations of occupations that are not found in either the 2010 or 2018 SOC. The May 2021 estimates, to be published in spring 2022, will be the first OEWS estimates based entirely on survey data collected using the 2018 SOC.

The November 2018 through May 2020 survey panels were collected using the 2018 SOC. The November 2017 and May 2018 panels used a slightly modified version of the 2010 SOC in which 21 detailed occupational codes were replaced with 10 aggregations of those occupations. More information on these SOC aggregations is available in table 1 at

Almost all occupations in the May 2019 and May 2020 OEWS hybrid system are identical to the 2018 SOC occupations. However, in some cases, survey data for more than one 2018 and/or 2010 SOC occupation were combined to form a hybrid occupation. Some of these combinations are equivalent to a standard 2018 SOC broad occupation and are published under the 2018 SOC broad occupation code and title. Other combinations are equivalent to an occupation in the 2010 SOC and are published under their 2010 SOC code and title. Finally, some combinations are not found in either the 2010 or 2018 SOC structure. These are published under an OEWS-specific hybrid code and a composite title that indicates the content of the hybrid.

Because some of the hybrid codes combine occupations from more than one 2018 SOC minor group or broad occupation, the May 2019 and May 2020 estimates do not contain data for some 2018 SOC minor groups and broad occupations.

The OEWS program has also replaced some 2018 SOC detailed occupations with SOC broad occupations or OEWS-specific aggregations. These include home health aides and personal care aides, for which OEWS will publish only the 2018 SOC broad occupation 31-1120 home health and personal care aides.

For more information on the occupational classification system used in the May 2019 OEWS estimates, please see the OEWS 2018 SOC implementation page and frequently asked questions.

The May 2020 OEWS estimates use the metropolitan area definitions delineated in Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Bulletin 17-01. The only area definition change for the May 2020 estimates is that the Alaska county Valdez–Cordova Census Area, which was part of the Alaska nonmetropolitan area for the May 2019 estimates, was broken out into the Chugach Census Area and the Copper River Census Area. Both of these areas remain in the Alaska nonmetropolitan area for the May 2020 estimates.

The 2017 NAICS was used to define sampling cells and estimation cells for all panel data used in the May 2020 estimates. 

Last Modified Date: March 31, 2021