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Why This Counts: Measuring Occupational Requirements

You probably know that BLS publishes data and analysis about employment, unemployment, job openings, earnings, productivity, occupational safety and health, and more. But did you know we also publish information about how often workers have to lift objects; the maximum weight they lift or carry; whether they work in extreme heat or cold; and how much training and experience they need for a job? We call these characteristics “occupational requirements.”

What are occupational requirements?

The Occupational Requirements Survey provides information about the requirements of jobs:

  • Physical demands of work, such as keyboarding, reaching overhead, lifting or carrying
  • Environmental conditions, such as extreme heat, exposure to outdoors, proximity to moving parts
  • Education, training, and experience requirements, such as prior work experience, on-the-job training, and license requirements
  • Cognitive and mental requirements, such as interaction with other people, independence of work, and the amount of review

How did BLS get into doing this survey?

This survey is one of our newest statistical programs; we first published data on December 1, 2016.

The Social Security Administration asked us to help them obtain accurate and current data to use in their disability programs. They are developing an Occupational Information System, which will use data from the Occupational Requirements Survey. That means the survey is crucial for Social Security to manage their disability programs fairly and efficiently.

How can I use occupational requirements information?

Users of Occupational Requirements Survey data include:

  • Researchers exploring occupational change
  • Jobseekers and students
  • Government agencies evaluating skill gaps
  • People with disabilities and their advocates

Let’s discuss a couple of examples to show you what I mean.

Educational requirements

You may want to know the minimum formal education requirements for jobs. The survey has a stat for that! In 2018, a high school diploma was required for jobs covering 40.7 percent of workers, while 17.9 percent had a bachelor’s degree requirement. The chart below shows the percent of jobs by minimum education requirement.

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018

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

We have more information on education, training, and experience. The 2018 news release showed that on-the-job training was required for about 77 percent of workers, and the average duration was 34 days.

We also have information on preparation time, which includes minimum formal education, training, and work experience a typical worker needs to perform a job. Preparation time between 4 hours and 1 month was required for 31.5 percent of workers.

Environmental Conditions

Is the noise level at your workplace closer to a library (quiet) or a rock concert (very loud)? For some jobseekers, understanding the noise level and other environmental conditions might be extremely important as they evaluate job options. The chart below provides examples of the noise intensity in different occupations.

Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018

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

Examples of work environments with different noise intensity levels include:

  • Quiet: private office, a golf course, or art museum
  • Moderate: department stores, business office, or fast food restaurant
  • Loud: manufacturing plant, atop large earth moving equipment, or jobs next to the highway
  • Very loud: rock concert venues, working with jack hammers, or rocket testing areas

How do we collect job requirement data?

To collect job requirement data, our field economists ask business owners, human resource professionals, worker safety officers, and supervisors to collect requirements of work. Field economists do not use paper or online questionnaires to collect these data; instead, they rely on a conversational interviews and descriptive documents, such as task lists, to collect information on occupational requirements.

How are we improving the survey?

Survey scope: Since it began, we have continued to refine the survey to improve its accuracy. In the third year of collection, we redefined the survey scope to focus on critical job functions—that is, the reason the job exists.

Survey content: Beginning with the current sample in collection, we added questions about cognitive and mental requirements. The Social Security Administration asked for this change so we can provide information on the requirements for workers to adapt to changes in the pace of work, solve problems, and interact with others.

Sample: The survey sample is collected over a 5-year period. That will provide the large amount of data necessary to publish information about detailed occupations. We have revised the sampling process to ensure we collect information about less common occupations.

Website: We recently improved the web layout to make it easier for users to find the data they want.

Where is more information?

We have data for occupational groups and occupations through the Occupational Profiles. All data are available through the public data tools. For concepts, methods, and history of the survey see the Handbook of Methods or visit our homepage.

Let us know if you have questions or comments about occupational requirements:

  • Email
  • Phone: (202) 691-6199

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

Percent of jobs with a minimum education requirement, 2018
Education requirement Percent
No minimum education requirement 31.5%
High school diploma 40.7
Associate’s degree 3.8
Associate’s vocational degree 2.1
Bachelor’s degree 17.9
Master’s degree 2.3
Professional degree 0.9
Doctorate degree 0.5
Percent of jobs with noise intensity level requirements, selected occupations, 2018
Occupation Quiet Moderate Loud
Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists 49.0% 51.0%
Computer programmers 60.1
Construction laborers 48.6 51.4
Electricians 49.0 51.0
Highway maintenance workers 46.2 53.8
Home health aides 54.1 45.9
Library technicians 56.0
Medical transcriptionists 68.7
Paralegals and legal assistants 66.5 33.5
Welders, cutters, and welder fitters 48.2 50.9

New State Data on Labor Productivity and Job Openings and Labor Turnover

While international trade has become increasingly important to our economy over the past 60 years, U.S. households and businesses continue to rely primarily on local markets for most goods and services. The products we create come from all over our country. Workers, businesses, and policymakers care deeply about the economy in our own backyards. That’s why BLS recently began publishing new data on labor productivity by state and, separately, on job openings and labor turnover by state.

State labor productivity

Our measures of labor productivity for states are still experimental, meaning we’re still assessing them and considering ways to improve them. These measures cover the private nonfarm sector for all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2007 to 2017. They show that labor productivity growth varies a lot from state to state. From 2007 to 2017, labor productivity changes ranged from a gain of 3.1 percent per year in North Dakota to a loss of 0.7 percent per year in Louisiana. In 2017, labor productivity grew fastest in Montana (2.0 percent), West Virginia (1.9 percent), California (1.8 percent), and Hawaii (1.7 percent). You can get the complete dataset from our state labor productivity page.

U.S. map showing productivity growth in the private nonfarm sector in each state from 2007 to 2017

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

We construct these state measures from data published by several BLS programs and by our colleagues at the Bureau of Economic Analysis. A recent Monthly Labor Review article, “BLS publishes experimental state-level labor productivity measures,” explains the data and the methods for putting them all together. The article also highlights how you might use these new state data. We’re happy to have your feedback on these new measures. Just send us an email.

State job openings and labor turnover

We also have new data on job openings, hiring, and separations by state. Data from the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey are widely used by economic policymakers and others who want to understand the job flows that lead to net changes in employment. We have these data back to December 2000 and update them every month for the nation and the four broad census regions. Now we have them for all states and the District of Columbia too. These state estimates are available from February 2001 through December 2018 for the total nonfarm sector.

Many of you have told us you want more geographic details about job openings and turnover. To make sense of data on job openings, for example, it helps to know where the jobs are. The survey sample size is designed to estimate job openings and turnover for major industries only at the national and regional levels. For several years we have researched ways to produce model-assisted estimates for states. As with the state productivity data, these estimates are experimental. We plan to update the state estimates each quarter while we assess your feedback on the models and the usefulness of the data. We encourage you to send us your comments.

But wait, there’s more! We’ve updated the BLS Local Data App!

In previous blog posts, we’ve told you about our mobile app for customers who want to know more about local labor markets. This app now includes employment and wage data for detailed industries and occupations. (It doesn’t yet have the new data on state productivity, job openings, and turnover.)

Interested in local data for a particular industry or occupation? The latest version allows you to quickly search or use the built-in industry and occupational lists. Want to know which industry employs the most workers in your area or which occupation pays the highest? The updated app allows you to sort the employment and wage data across groups of industries and occupations. You can still find data on unemployment rates and total employment. You also can find your state, metro area, or county by searching for a zip code or using your device’s current location.

These new data and features result from the continued partnership between BLS and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer. Be on the lookout for more new features to be added in future releases.

Download the BLS Local Data app from the App Store or Google Play today!

Annual percent change in labor productivity in the private nonfarm sector, 2007–17
State Annual percent change
North Dakota 3.1
California 1.7
Oregon 1.7
Washington 1.7
Colorado 1.6
Oklahoma 1.6
Maryland 1.5
Montana 1.5
Pennsylvania 1.5
Massachusetts 1.4
New Mexico 1.4
Vermont 1.4
Idaho 1.3
Kansas 1.3
Nebraska 1.1
New Hampshire 1.1
South Carolina 1.1
Tennessee 1.1
Texas 1.1
West Virginia 1.1
Alabama 1.0
Hawaii 1.0
Kentucky 1.0
Minnesota 1.0
New York 1.0
Rhode Island 1.0
South Dakota 1.0
Virginia 1.0
Georgia 0.9
Arkansas 0.8
Missouri 0.8
Ohio 0.8
Utah 0.8
Illinois 0.7
North Carolina 0.7
Delaware 0.6
Florida 0.6
Iowa 0.6
Indiana 0.5
Mississippi 0.5
New Jersey 0.5
Wisconsin 0.5
Alaska 0.4
Arizona 0.4
District of Columbia 0.4
Michigan 0.4
Maine 0.3
Nevada 0.3
Wyoming 0.1
Connecticut -0.5
Louisiana -0.7

Improved Mapping Tool for Local Area Unemployment Statistics

We publish thousands of unemployment rates each month for states, metro areas, and counties. That can make them hard to follow, but we just upgraded our mapping tool to make it easy. Instead of wading through all those numbers, just check out the latest maps for what you need. We have rebuilt the tool using a more modern and versatile mapping technology. That will make it easier to update with future geographic changes. We have improved several features of the tool:

  • We have added tooltips to help you identify each area and its data. Just hover over an area on the map to see its information.
  • In the tab for state data that are not seasonally adjusted, you can choose a state and pull up a map of that state’s county data for the same period.
  • The metro area tab has returned and reflects the areas currently used by the Local Area Unemployment Statistics program.
  • You can choose the dates, states, areas, and measures you want to see.
  • You can select the key data ranges to highlight all areas in the same group. (Click or press the range a second time to deselect.)
  • The map space is larger and framed.
  • Use the arrow in the lower right corner of the map space to print the map image or export it to .PNG, .JPEG, and .SVG formats.

Missouri map showing counties and their unemployment rates

We hope these improved maps make finding data for your state and local area easier. Let us know what you think.

Wage Information Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

On April 16, BLS reported that median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers rose 2.7 percent over the year.

On April 30, BLS reported that the Employment Cost Index for wages of private industry workers rose 3.0 percent over the year.

On May 2, BLS reported that hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector rose 2.5 percent over the year.

On May 3, BLS reported that average hourly earnings for private industry workers rose 3.2 percent over the year.

What’s going on here? Why so much wage information? And which one is RIGHT?

At BLS, we get questions like this all the time, and the answer is usually “it depends.” There is no one answer that fits every question on wages; there are just different answers depending on what you want to measure. People come to BLS looking for all kinds of answers, and we want to provide as much information as we can. Thus, we have many measures of wages (and other forms of compensation) — a dozen, to be exact.

Do you want to know about wages for an industry? An occupation? By location? For men and women? Based on education? Adjusted for inflation? Including benefits? How wages relate to spending patterns? How wages relate to worker productivity? BLS has it all, and more.

We have so much wage information that even we get confused. So we developed a tool to make the dozen wage series a little easier to understand. It’s an interactive guide that lists all 12 data sources and 32 key details about each of those sources, like how often it is available.

I can hear you now — that’s 384 pieces of information (12 x 32). I’m just looking for one piece of information, not almost 400. And how do you fit all that information on one page, anyway?

The interactive guide limits the display to 3 sources at a time — you pick the sources you want to see.

A table showing 3 BLS sources of compensation information and data characteristics available from those sources.

Or you can pick one characteristic, like “measures available by occupation” and get an answer for all 12 data sources.

A table showing the occupational information available from several BLS data sources on compensation.

This tool is on the BLS beta site. We want you to give it a try and provide feedback. Check it out and leave us a comment. Want to know even more? Watch this video that helps make sense of BLS wage information.

BLS Local Data App Now Available for Android Devices

The wait is over! The BLS Local Data app — a mobile application that connects users with the data they need to know about local labor markets — is now available for Android devices. Search “BLS Local Data” in Google Play.

The BLS Local Data app, first released for iPhones last fall, uses the BLS API to present local data and national comparisons for unemployment rates, employment, and wages. You can search using your current location, a zip code, or a location name to find relevant data quickly without having to navigate through the huge BLS database. With one click, you can find data for states, metro areas, or counties.

BLS continues to partner with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to expand the features and data in the app. A second version is in development and will be available soon for both iPhone and Android devices. Version 2.0 will include employment and wage data for detailed industries and occupations. It also will have new charting functionality that will allow users to plot the historical unemployment rate time series for their local area of interest.

Check out the app and bring the wealth of local labor market data produced by BLS directly to your mobile devices!

The BLS Local Data App showing employment and wage data for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.