Why This Counts: What Types of Jobs Are in the U.S. Labor Market?

Ever wonder how many accountants there are in the United States? Or how much an occupational therapist gets paid? Or maybe you already have a job, but you’re thinking about working somewhere new. What areas or industries have the highest pay for your occupation?

We have the answers to these questions, plus much, much more!

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey publishes hundreds of thousands of estimates for employment and wages covering around 800 detailed occupations in 600 areas spanning all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and three territories: Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

That sounds impressive, but what does it mean? It means you can see employment and wages for occupations where you live or in the type of business where you work. OES provides specific information on the types of jobs found in each industry or area and their wages.

OES building blocks: occupation and industry

Before we dive into the deep end with data, let’s wade in a little by clarifying some terms. In our everyday lives, occupation and industry may be interchangeable, but in fact occupation refers to the worker and industry refers to the employer.

Occupation refers to what people do and the jobs people have. BLS uses the Standard Occupational Classification system to code workers into more than 800 different occupations based on their job duties. This system is the standard used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupations.

Industry refers to the types of businesses where people work. BLS uses the North American Industry Classification System to code business establishments into industries based on what they produce or sell. This also is the standard used by federal agencies to classify business establishments into industries.

Because we use these federally mandated coding structures, data users can easily compare OES data with other federal statistical programs.

Why does OES data count?

For this blog post, we will only focus on national level data. We’re saving state and area data for a later post. Let’s take a closer look at the occupational data for the United States and in certain industries.

People count on OES data to see employment by occupation

Did you know that the largest occupation in the United States is retail salespersons? This chart shows the 10 largest occupations, which together account for more than one in five jobs in the United States.

Employment in the largest occupations, May 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

According to May 2017 OES data, there were 4.4 million retail salespersons in the United States, accounting for 3 percent of all jobs. The largest three occupations combined account for 8 percent of all U.S. jobs and also include cashiers and combined food preparation and serving workers (each 3.6 million).

We also have data on some of the smallest occupations in the country, such as geographers, watch repairers, astronomers, fabric menders, and mine shuttle car operators. Each of these occupations has fewer than 5,000 jobs.

People count on OES data for wages by occupation

Eight of the 10 largest occupations in the United States had below-average wages. Retail salespersons ($27,460), combined food preparation and serving workers ($21,230), and cashiers ($22,130) had annual mean wages significantly below the average for all occupations of $50,620.

Registered nurses ($73,550) and general and operations managers ($123,460) were the largest occupations with above-average wages.

Annual mean wages for the largest occupations, May 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

People count on OES data to compare occupations

Occupational employment and wage information is useful to students and schools making investments in education. They can see which fields have the best prospects for getting a job with good wages.

The pairs of related occupations in the table below show wages are generally higher for the occupation with more education and training requirements. In many cases employment is higher in the occupation with more education or training, and in some cases employment is lower.

 Median wage and employment data by select occupations, May 2017

Occupation Median hourly wage Employment
Mechanical Drafters $26.50 58,190
Mechanical Engineers $41.29 291,290
Cooks, Restaurant $12.10 1,276,510
Chefs and Head Cooks $22.09 131,430
Shampooers $9.77 13,330
Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists $11.95 351,910
Retail Salespersons $11.16 4,442,090
First-Line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers $18.54 1,200,180
Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks $18.87 1,532,340
Accountants and Auditors $33.34 1,241,000
Dental Assistants $18.09 337,160
Dental Hygienists $35.61 211,600
Light Truck or Delivery Services Drivers $15.12 877,670
Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers $20.42 1,748,140

People count on OES data to see the types of jobs in each industry

OES data can complement other BLS data by showing the different types of jobs in each industry. For example, healthcare and social assistance is one of the largest industries in the United States. OES data show the types of jobs in this industry. This chart shows the 10 largest occupations in the health care and social assistance industry.

Largest occupations in health care and social assistance, May 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Although many of the largest occupations in health care and social assistance are concentrated in this industry, some of the largest occupations in this sector, such as childcare workers, general office clerks, and receptionists and information clerks, can be found in many other industries as well. Jobseekers or workers wanting to increase their wage can use OES data to see which industries pay more by occupation.

The top paying industries for receptionists and information clerks include utilities ($34,780), construction ($31,070), and manufacturing ($30,900), in addition to health care and social assistance ($30,840). According to the May 2017 OES estimates, the national average annual wage for receptionists and information clerks was $29,640.

Industries with the highest annual mean wages for receptionists and information clerks, May 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Who uses OES data?

Employers frequently use OES data for their industry. Business startups and entrepreneurs use the data to help determine typical staffing needs and expenses for businesses similar to theirs. Established businesses use occupational wage distributions to ensure they remain competitive and retain and attract good workers. In addition, OES data are used by students, jobseekers, and career advisors to help with career planning.

You may also encounter OES data in other places, because the data are used by a number of other federal agencies. The BLS Employment Projections program uses industry staffing patterns and wages from OES to produce estimates of future job growth. The U.S. Department of Labor Office of Foreign Labor Certification uses OES data to set prevailing wages for visa applicants. The Bureau of Economic Analysis uses OES wages to estimate social security receipts. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services use the data to set reimbursement rates for health care providers. These are just a few of the ways OES data are used by other government programs and agencies.

 Want to know more?

You can further explore all of the reasons why OES data count at the OES homepage. Read the latest OES news release, get answers to frequently asked questions and check out our maps. Also, contact the OES information staff with questions by email or call (202) 691-6569.

Use these gold-standard data to learn more about your current occupation or to find out about new ones. Whatever your occupational employment question, “We have a stat for that!”

Employment in the largest occupations, May 2017
Occupation Employment
Retail salespersons 4,442,090
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 3,576,220
Cashiers 3,564,920
Office clerks, general 2,967,620
Registered nurses 2,906,840
Customer service representatives 2,767,790
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 2,711,320
Waiters and waitresses 2,584,220
Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive 2,254,820
General and operations managers 2,212,200
Annual mean wages for the largest occupations, May 2017
Occupation Annual mean wage
General and operations managers $123,460
Registered nurses 73,550
All Occupations 50,620
Secretaries and administrative assistants, except legal, medical, and executive 36,920
Customer service representatives 35,650
Office clerks, general 33,910
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 29,690
Retail salespersons 27,460
Waiters and waitresses 25,280
Cashiers 22,130
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 21,230
Largest occupations in health care and social assistance, May 2017
Occupation Employment
Registered nurses 2,557,530
Personal care aides 1,944,270
Nursing assistants 1,344,390
Home health aides 783,910
Medical assistants 614,180
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses 608,080
Medical secretaries 539,680
Receptionists and information clerks 478,800
Office clerks, general 364,060
Childcare workers 330,090
Industries with the highest annual mean wages for receptionists and information clerks, May 2017
Industry Annual mean wage
Utilities $34,780
Management of companies and enterprises 31,970
Finance and insurance 31,180
Transportation and warehousing 31,110
Wholesale trade 31,080
Construction 31,070
Manufacturing 30,900
Health care and social assistance 30,840
Federal, state, and local government, excluding state and local schools and hospitals and the U.S. Postal Service 30,710
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 30,710

1 comment on “Why This Counts: What Types of Jobs Are in the U.S. Labor Market?

  1. Warren S Wright says:

    Thank you for the excellent information and job you do. It is easy to see why tens of millions of American workers are living from paycheck to paycheck, and and have little savings.

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