Related BLS programs
October, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 10
The BLS wage query system: a new tool to access wage data
Maury Gittleman and William J. Wiatrowski
The search for wage data can be daunting. Data are available for different job characteristics, such as occupation, industry, or geographic area; by demographics of the wage earner, such as race, sex, education, or age; and in a variety of forms, such as hourly wages, annual salaries, total employer payrolls, gross pay, or net pay. Beyond these variations, users of wage data may ask how wage is defined in the measure. Is it straight time or does it include overtime? Are other cash payments, such as commissions or year-end bonuses, included? Finally, how reliable are the data? Have they been subjected to the scrutiny of statistical methods? Do they include sufficient observations to support generalizations about wages in the marketplace?
There is no panacea to simplify these complexities or to ensure appropriate application of available data. Users of wage data are advised to learn as much about their data source as possible—in particular, whether the data use the appropriate definition and meet the standard of quality required for their purpose. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes a number of different wage measures. To enable data users to find hourly wage data more easily, BLS recently added a new feature to its Internet site—the wage query system. This interactive application allows users to request wage data from the National Compensation Survey (NCS) by certain characteristics. Once they have targeted the specific data, the results are returned almost instantly.
This article provides information on the data behind the new query system, a section on navigating the system, and a discussion on the new regression estimates that recently were added to the query system. Regression estimates help to provide more complete data on area wages by occupation and level of work, an important component of the wage query system. The article concludes with a look at enhancements planned for the future.
Data drive the wage query system
The data behind the new query system come from the National Compensation Survey, which is a BLS survey of wages and benefits throughout the United States. Although the NCS database includes employer costs for wages and benefits, rates of change in those costs, and detailed information on benefit plans, this discussion is limited to the query of hourly wage rates.1 BLS also publishes other wage measures, each with its own unique characteristics. The feature that sets the NCS wage estimates apart from other wage data currently available is information on "work level." Not only can data users search for the average wage of, for example, accountants in Los Angeles, they also can select by work level to view average wages of entry level or senior accountants in that locality.
This excerpt is from an article published in the October 2001 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 The earnings used to calculate the hourly wage rates are defined as regular payments from the employer to the employee as compensation for straight-time hourly work, or for any salaried work performed. Wage data represent gross pay (that is, prior to taxes) and include incentive pay such as commissions and production bonuses, but do not include overtime or bonuses not directly tied to production, such as hiring and year-end bonuses. For additional details, see National Compensation Survey: Occupational Wages in the United States, 1999, Bulletin 2539 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2000). This information is available on the Internet at www.bls.gov/ncs/.
National Compensation Survey
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