Tag Archives: Statistics awareness

Why This Counts: What Do We Know about Strikes and Lockouts?

Strikes and lockouts? Aren’t those 1940s-50s-60s economic activities? Sounds like we are taking a trip to the distant past with Sherman and Mr. Peabody in the WABAC machine. (For you younger readers, these characters can be found in the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, a TV show from the early 1960s.) BLS first collected data on labor and management disputes (work stoppages) in the 1880s. BLS has continuously published work stoppage information since 1947, for events covering at least 1,000 workers. Recently, high profile work stoppages by public school teachers and others have kept these types of activities in the news.

What are work stoppages?

The work stoppages program provides monthly and annual data on major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers and lasting one full shift or longer. For this report, BLS does not differentiate between strikes and lockouts.

  • Strikes are a temporary stoppage of work by a group of employees to express a grievance, enforce a demand, or protest the terms, conditions, or provisions of a contract.
  • Lockouts are a temporary denial of employment by management.

Detailed monthly reports from 1993 to the present provide the organizations and unions involved, along with the locations, industries, number of workers directly involved, and days of idleness.

Who uses these data?

Work stoppages provide media, researchers, labor relations specialists, unions, and government agencies with information about labor-management disputes. While the work stoppages program does not report on the nature of the dispute, identifying the details of parties involved helps users assess the impact of compensation trends, union membership and activity, and legislation.

Has work stoppage activity changed over time?

Since BLS began reporting on work stoppages, declines in union membership, the growth of the service industry, technological changes, and other factors have led to a significant reduction in the number of work stoppages. Between 1947 and 1956, there were 3,438 work stoppages. In the decade from 2007 to 2016, there were 143 stoppages. In 2017, there were 7 work stoppages, and in 2018 there were 20.

Number of work stoppages by decade

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

Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018

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

Decreases in the number of work stoppages and the number of workers involved are especially noticeable during recessions. These levels reached an all-time low at the end of the 2007–09 recession. In 1952, there were 2,746,000 workers involved in work stoppages, whereas in 2018 there were 485,000 workers involved.

Number of workers involved in major work stoppages, 1947–2018

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

Another way to evaluate the impact of work stoppages on the national economy is by looking at the number of days workers are away from work because of strikes or lockouts. The number of days of idleness reached a peak in 1959, at about 60,850,000 days. The second largest number was in 1970, with 52,761,000 of days of idleness. In 2018, there were 2,815,400 days of idleness. Number of days idle from work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018

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

Where are work stoppages most prevalent?

Of the 559 major work stoppages between 1993 and 2018, 423 occurred in private industry, 95 in local government, 40 in state government, and 1 in both state and local government. Most stoppages during that period, 458, occurred within individual states, while 101 occurred in two or more states. California, the state with the largest share of national employment (13.6 percent), had the largest share of work stoppages, 24.2 percent. Texas, which accounts for 9.6 percent of national employment, accounted for 2.9 percent of all work stoppages (excluding interstate and nationally reported stoppages).

Share of national employment and share of major work stoppages by state, 1993–2018

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

These data also allow users to evaluate differences in the number of work stoppages by industry. From 1993 to 2018, there were almost as many stoppages in manufacturing (158) as the next two industries combined. Health care and social assistance had 83 work stoppages, while educational services had 79 work stoppages. Of the 79 educational services stoppages, 75 were in state and local government, with 50 occurring in local government and 25 in state government.Number of major work stoppages by industry, 1993–2018

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

Want to know more?

We hope this discussion of work stoppages and a look to the past was almost as good as using the WABAC machine!

Number of work stoppages by decade
Decade Number
1947–1956 3,438
1957– 1966 2,500
1967–1976 3,321
1977–1986 1,446
1987–1996 404
1997–2006 240
2007–2016 140
Annual work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers, 1947–2018
Year Number of work stoppages Number of workers involved Number of days idle
1947 270 1,629,000 25,720,000
1948 245 1,435,000 26,127,000
1949 262 2,537,000 43,420,000
1950 424 1,698,000 30,390,000
1951 415 1,462,000 15,070,000
1952 470 2,746,000 48,820,000
1953 437 1,623,000 18,130,000
1954 265 1,075,000 16,630,000
1955 363 2,055,000 21,180,000
1956 287 1,370,000 26,840,000
1957 279 887,000 10,340,000
1958 332 1,587,000 17,900,000
1959 245 1,381,000 60,850,000
1960 222 896,000 13,260,000
1961 195 1,031,000 10,140,000
1962 211 793,000 11,760,000
1963 181 512,000 10,020,000
1964 246 1,183,000 16,220,000
1965 268 999,000 15,140,000
1966 321 1,300,000 16,000,000
1967 381 2,192,000 31,320,000
1968 392 1,855,000 35,367,000
1969 412 1,576,000 29,397,000
1970 381 2,468,000 52,761,000
1971 298 2,516,000 35,538,000
1972 250 975,000 16,764,000
1973 317 1,400,000 16,260,000
1974 424 1,796,000 31,809,000
1975 235 965,000 17,563,000
1976 231 1,519,000 23,962,000
1977 298 1,212,000 21,258,000
1978 219 1,006,000 23,774,000
1979 235 1,021,000 20,409,000
1980 187 795,000 20,844,000
1981 145 729,000 16,908,000
1982 96 656,000 9,061,000
1983 81 909,000 17,461,000
1984 62 376,000 8,499,000
1985 54 324,000 7,079,000
1986 69 533,000 11,861,000
1987 46 174,000 4,481,000
1988 40 118,000 4,381,000
1989 51 452,000 16,996,000
1990 44 185,000 5,926,000
1991 40 392,000 4,584,000
1992 35 364,000 3,989,000
1993 35 182,000 3,981,000
1994 45 322,000 5,021,000
1995 31 192,000 5,771,000
1996 37 273,000 4,889,000
1997 29 339,000 4,497,000
1998 34 387,000 5,116,000
1999 17 73,000 1,996,000
2000 39 394,000 20,419,000
2001 29 99,000 1,151,000
2002 19 46,000 659,600
2003 14 129,200 4,091,200
2004 17 170,700 3,344,100
2005 22 99,600 1,736,100
2006 20 70,100 2,687,500
2007 21 189,200 1,264,800
2008 15 72,200 1,954,100
2009 5 12,500 124,100
2010 11 44,500 302,300
2011 19 112,500 1,020,200
2012 19 148,100 1,130,800
2013 15 54,500 289,900
2014 11 34,300 200,200
2015 12 47,300 740,000
2016 15 99,400 1,543,400
2017 7 25,300 439,800
2018 20 485,200 2,815,400
Share of national employment and share of major work stoppages by state, 1993–2018
State Share of national employment Share of major work stoppages
California 13.6% 24.2%
Texas 9.6 2.9
New York 6.7 8.8
Florida 7.1 0.7
Pennsylvania 4.4 8.1
Illinois 4.4 9.1
Ohio 4.0 7.5
Georgia 3.5 1.3
Michigan 3.4 6.3
North Carolina 3.4 1.1
New Jersey 3.1 3.8
Number of major work stoppages by industry, 1993–2018
Industry Number of stoppages
Manufacturing 158
Health care and social assistance 83
Educational services 79
Construction 61
Transportation and warehousing 54
Public administration 23
Retail Trade 22
Information 20
Utilities 14
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services 12
Accomodation and food services 10
Mining 8
Wholesale trade 4
Finance and insurance 4
Real estate and rental and leasin 3
Professional, scientific, and technical services 2
Arts, entertainment, and recreation 2

Wages and Benefits in a City Near You

This started out as a blog about wages and benefits in New York City. But then I shared it with some colleagues, who thought it was too Gotham-centric. My real purpose is to highlight the data on employer costs for wages and benefits in several large metropolitan areas, including New York.

But maybe I should back up a little. Since 1986, BLS has published information on what it costs employers to employ their workforce. Employer Costs for Employee Compensation look at what employers spend on wages and benefits. Over the years, we have expanded the data to provide more industry and occupational detail and other job characteristics, such as union versus nonunion status and full-time versus part-time work. For the past decade, information has been available for private industry workers in 15 metropolitan areas, including New York. More on that in a moment.

Across the United States, private employers spent an average of $34.17 per hour worked on wages and benefits in March 2018. Of this amount, 69.5 percent ($23.76) went for wages. The rest (30.5 percent or $10.41) was for a wide range of benefits, including paid time off, insurances, retirement and savings plans, and legally required benefits (for example, the employer’s share of Social Security taxes).

There is a lot of variation around that average. For example, private employers in the financial activities industry spent an average of $49.46 per hour worked on wages and benefits, while employers in the leisure and hospitality industry spent less than one-third of that amount — $14.94. And the share of compensation dollars going toward benefits also varies — 40.4 percent for union workers, compared with 29.1 percent for nonunion workers.

Employer costs per hour worked for employee compensation, private industry, selected job characteristics, March 2018

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

So how can you use this information? If you run a business, you might compare your compensation costs to the average for your industry. And you might see how your split between wage and benefit costs stacks up. As an employee, you might also check how you fare against the average.

Private employers in the New York metropolitan area (you knew I would get there eventually) spent $45.61 per hour worked to compensate their workers — fully a third more than the national average. New York was one of three metropolitan areas to have costs in the mid-$40 range, along with Boston and Seattle. All were eclipsed by the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area, with average compensation costs of $56.92 per hour worked. In contrast, employers in Miami averaged $31.32.

Employer costs per hour worked for employee compensation, private industry workers in selected metropolitan areas, March 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the article “Compensation costs in San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland averaged $56.92 per hour in March 2018.”

How these costs are split between wages and benefits can vary for many reasons. These include the industry and occupation mix in an area, the extent of collective bargaining, local benefit practices (and legal requirements), and the generosity of benefit plans. Many benefits, such as paid leave and employer matching contributions to 401(k) plans, are tied partly to wages. The higher the wages, the higher the cost of benefits.

With this in mind, the data tell a couple of different stories. On the one hand, the share of compensation costs going toward benefits hovers around the national average (30.5 percent) in all areas, ranging from 27.7 percent in Dallas to 33.6 percent in Detroit. But the actual dollar amounts vary. Employers spend an average of $8.92 per hour worked on benefits in Miami and nearly twice that much ($17.12) in the San Francisco Bay Area. As noted, many of these costs are tied to wages.

Again, this information might be helpful to compare your compensation costs to the average in your area. Businesses might use the data when making relocation or expansion decisions. Or you might just call your friends in New York and show off how much you know about the Big Apple.

We update the national information quarterly, 3 months following the reference date. Data for the 15 metropolitan areas is available once a year — in the June release providing information for March. To keep the data consistent, I’ve used March 2018 data in this blog. The next release, with December 2018 data, is scheduled for March 19. Watch for these data coming your way soon. We also have more charts on employer costs for employee compensation.

Employer costs per hour worked for employee compensation, private industry, selected job characteristics, March 2018
Characteristic Wages Benefits
Union workers $28.42 $19.23
Nonunion workers 23.31 9.56
1–99 workers 20.87 7.92
100–499 workers 23.94 10.82
500 workers or more 32.00 17.16
Financial activities 32.53 16.93
Leisure and hospitality 11.73 3.21

Tracking the Changing Nature of Work: the Process Continues

The days of working the same 9-to-5 job for 40 years are a fading memory. Work today may involve multiple part-time jobs, working from home, obtaining work through a mobile device, and changing jobs frequently. The so-called “changing nature of work” is already here, and at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we are trying to keep up with this new world.

One of our primary sources of information on Americans’ labor market activity is the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of households that provides a real-time snapshot of the share of the population who are employed and unemployed. These data are complemented by other BLS programs that focus on labor turnover, how Americans spend their time, details about local labor markets, and other topics.

But how well do these programs track nontraditional forms of employment, including short-term assignments, platform work, temporary help, and jobs so new and different we haven’t even named them yet? BLS has been working on these issues for many years. Let’s consider a few timely questions and see how BLS has responded.

Not all jobs are permanent. What do we know about jobs that are not expected to last?

Throughout its history, BLS has been exploring perceived changes in the nature of work. For example, an article in the October 1996 Monthly Labor Review described “…reports of corporate downsizing, production streamlining, and increasing use of temporary workers…” as raising questions about “…employers’ commitment to long term, stable employment relationships.” This article, and many others in the same issue, went on to introduce the first “Contingent Worker Supplement” (CWS) to the CPS. Supplements such as this are additional questions on specific topics generally asked once (as opposed to every month) of CPS households.

The CWS asks about jobs that are not expected to last, as well as alternative work arrangements, such as working as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency. While not an ongoing BLS program, we received funding to conduct the supplement in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, and 2017. This allows us to track contingent work over time. In May 2017, there were 5.9 million contingent workers – those who did not expect their job to last. This represented 3.8 percent of the total employed. Twelve years earlier, a slightly higher percentage, 4.1 percent, did not expect their job to last.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs

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

How many people are in different types of jobs, such as independent contractors?

The CWS also included questions to identify people who were in four types of alternative work arrangements:

  • Independent contractors
  • On-call workers
  • Temporary help agency workers
  • Workers provided by contract firms

The most prevalent of these arrangements was independent contractors. The 10.6 million independent contractors identified in May 2017 represented 6.9 percent of the total employed.

Percent of employed in alternative arrangements

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

Does BLS have a measure of the “gig” economy?

BLS does not have a definition of the gig economy or gig workers. In fact, researchers use many different definitions when they talk about the gig economy. You may think of a gig as something your high school band played on a Saturday night. Or today you might consider your ride-share driver as performing a gig. Classifying workers as gig could get very confusing. For example:

  • A plumber or electrician may be on the payroll of a contracting company on the weekdays and obtain individual jobs through an app on the weekend. Gig worker?
  • A substitute teacher in one school district may obtain assignments and pay through traditional means, while the neighboring district assigns and pays workers through an app. Is one a gig worker?

Confused? So am I. To repeat, BLS does not have a definition of gig. Definitions developed by others may overlap with contingent workers and some of those in alternative employment arrangements in the CWS. Rather than try to develop such a definition, BLS chose to focus new questions narrowly, as you will see in the next section.

What about work obtained through an app?

In preparing for the 2017 CWS, and knowing the interest in work obtained through an app on a phone or other mobile device, BLS added four questions about short jobs or tasks that workers find through an app or website that both links them with customers and arranges payment. Separate questions asked about in-person work (such as driving for a ride-sharing company or providing dog-walking services) and online-only work (such as coding medical records). At BLS, we call these jobs “electronically mediated employment.”

While BLS conducted some testing of the questions on electronically mediated employment and vetted them with a variety of stakeholders, the results made it clear that people had difficulty understanding the questions. This effort resulted in many false-positive answers, such as a surgeon who said all of his work was obtained through an app. BLS used companion information, where available, to recode responses. To be completely transparent, BLS published both the original and recoded data, but we encourage data users to focus on the recoded information. These results indicate that 1 percent of the employed in May 2017 – about 1.6 million people – held electronically mediated jobs. A slightly higher number of workers (990,000) held in-person jobs than online-only jobs (701,000). Note that some workers indicated they had both types of jobs.

Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 and older.

Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017

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

Maybe these “app” jobs are a second job. Do we know how many people hold more than one job?

We get information from the CPS each month on the number of workers who hold more than one job. In 2018, there were 7.8 million multiple jobholders – about 5.0 percent of total employment in 2018. That’s around the same share of employment it has been since 2010, but it was below the rates recorded during the mid-1990s, which were above 6.0 percent.

With all these new types of work, is the BLS monthly employment information missing anyone?

As noted, the CPS is an authoritative source of labor market information and has provided consistent data for over three-quarters of a century. But BLS is always looking to improve its measures, and there are other data sources that can supplement the CPS. For example, the American Time Use Survey obtains information about an individual’s activities during a 24-hour period. Among the categories that may be identified are “income-generating activities,” such as making pottery for pay, playing in a band for pay, and mowing lawns for pay.

Recently, BLS looked at people who were not counted as “employed” but who participate in income-generating activities. The research suggested that between 657,000 and 4.6 million people participated in income-generating activities but were not otherwise counted as employed in the survey. Given that total employment is around 155 million Americans, this undercount ranges from 0.4 to 3.0 percent of the total.

The study also examined the extent that employed people who did informal work in addition to a regular job might not be correctly classified as multiple jobholders. The research found that reclassifying workers misclassified as single jobholders would increase the number of multiple jobholders somewhere between 3.0 percent and 20.7 percent.

What more is BLS doing to improve labor market measures?

So, yes, BLS is doing a lot to improve our labor market measures, and the work continues. We know there is likely a small number of people who are not counted as employed yet perform income-generating activities. We know that definitions and concepts may need to be updated from time to time. We know that some terms, like “gig,” are not well defined and mean different things to different people. And we know it is not easy to define or identify electronically mediated employment.

Given all this, we continue to move forward. BLS has contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to convene an expert panel to address these issues and provide recommendations to BLS. This work began in late 2018 with a report due in early 2020. BLS will review the recommendations and, resources permitting, develop plans to test any new concepts or questions.

There’s been interest in emerging types of work for many years. It’s also a moving target, as the “changing nature of work” keeps changing. BLS has provided gold-standard data on America’s labor force for many years and will continue to research and refine and improve.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs
Year Percent of employed
February 1995 4.9%
February 1997 4.4
February 1999 4.3
February 2001 4.0
February 2005 4.1
May 2017 3.8
Percent of employed in alternative arrangements
Alternative arrangement May 2017 February 2005 February 2001 February 1999 February 1997 February 1995
Independent contractors 6.9% 7.4% 6.4% 6.3% 6.7% 6.7%
On-call workers 1.7 1.8 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7
Temporary help agency workers 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0
Workers provided by contract firms 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5
Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017
Workers 16 to 24 years 25 to 54 years 55 years and older
Total employed 12.4% 64.4% 23.1%
Workers with electronically mediated jobs 10.3 71.2 18.5
Electronically mediated jobs, in-person work 7.4 72.5 20.1
Electronically mediated jobs, online work 15.7 69.6 14.8

What Do We Know about Mega Metros?

Not only does BLS produce nationwide economic indicators, but we also have a treasure trove of data for metropolitan areas across the country.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 62.9 percent of our country’s 325.7 million people live in incorporated places. To celebrate our metro areas, we looked at the data for our six largest ones. We started with five but expanded to six, and you’ll soon see why.

Just a little history

You can track our march west as a nation, and, later, to the Sun Belt, in this list of the six most populous U.S. cities:

  1. New York City: Since the first census in 1790, New York has been our most populous city. Its population of 8.6 million makes it more than twice as large as the next largest city, Los Angeles.
  2. Los Angeles City: With a population of about 4 million, Los Angeles first showed up on the top-five list with the 1930 Census.
  3. Chicago City: Even with little population growth over the last several years, Chicago remains the third-largest city, with a population of 2.7 million. Chicago first showed up on the top-five city list in 1870.
  4. Houston City: And now we get to the Sun Belt, which seems to expand every year. Houston, with a population of 2.3 million, was a top-five city starting in 1980.
  5. Phoenix City: In 2016, Phoenix beat out Philadelphia for the number five spot on the most populous city list. In July 2017, its population was 1.6 million.
  6. Philadelphia City: Since Philadelphia was the second most populous city in 1790 and remained within the top five until Phoenix nudged it out in 2016, we kept it on our list. Philadelphia’s population is almost 1.6 million.

What makes a metro area great?

That’s easy—its people! So what’s happening with the people in each metro area? Are they working? Where do they work? What type of work? What are their earnings? How do they spend their money?

For the rest of this blog, we will use the Office of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas to define our mega metros:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Chicago- Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ Metropolitan Statistical Area
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD Metropolitan Statistical Area

We won’t use these long titles, but we will compare the areas listed above.

What’s the unemployment rate?

In November 2018, the national unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. Los Angeles had the highest rate (4.2 percent) among these six areas. Phoenix (3.9 percent), Houston (3.8 percent), Chicago (3.8 percent), Philadelphia (3.6 percent) and New York (3.3 percent) round out our list. New York had the largest over-the-year decrease in their unemployment rate among these six areas from November 2017 to November 2018 (-0.9 percentage point). Los Angeles was the only one of the six metro areas that had an over-the-year increase (+0.2 percentage point) in the unemployment rate.

How about the number of jobs? Has that been going up?

As we walk around our metro areas, we will see more folks going to work than a year ago. Nonfarm payroll employment increased for all of these areas from November 2017 to November 2018. Two showed growth rates above the national average—4.2 percent in Phoenix and 3.7 percent in Houston. The other four areas showed growth rates of 1.5 percent or lower. The national growth rate was 1.6 percent.

Where are people employed? What industries?

What industries employ the most workers? Trade, transportation, and utilities is the biggest industry, with 28.5 million workers nationwide. Education and health services (24.1 million workers) comes in second.

As we walk around each of these metro areas, what industries will we see employing our workers? Basically the same as the nation! In four of the six areas (all but New York and Philadelphia), trade, transportation, and utilities is the biggest industry. For both New York and Philadelphia, the biggest industry is education and health services.

What kind of occupations do people have?

What occupations do these folks have? This might sound like what we just covered, but occupation and industry are different. For example, I’m an economist (occupation) who works in government (public administration industry), but I could be an economist who works in a bank (financial activities industry).

I must admit I was surprised that, for all of our metro areas and the nation, these are the three largest occupational groups for our workers: office and administrative support occupations, sales and related occupations, and food preparation and serving related occupations. So as you walk around these metro areas, you will see people hurrying to work on a computer, sell an item, or cook a meal!

What about earnings? Do they vary much by metro area?

Nationwide, average hourly earnings in November 2018 for all employees were $27.28. Phoenix had the lowest average hourly earnings among these six areas, at $27.22. The highest average hourly earnings were in New York, $32.83. That’s a difference of $5.61 per hour between the highest and lowest averages among these six metro areas.

Where do folks spend their money?

Because of small sample sizes for metro areas, we’ll use an average of 2016–17 data on consumer spending for metro areas and the United States. Consumers in the three largest areas—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—all allocate a larger share of their total spending to housing than the national average. The U.S. housing average is 33 percent, while New Yorkers spend about 39 percent on housing. The percentage of households that own their homes also varies in our areas: Philadelphia has the highest homeownership percentage (70 percent), while New York has the lowest (49 percent). But New York residents spend less on transportation, 12 percent, compared to Houston residents, who spend 18 percent.

Want more metro area data?

You might not know about our Economic Summaries, which gather data from many programs. We have information for hundreds of metro areas in all 50 states, plus a couple of territories. We also have geographic definitions for each subject. We update the summaries each month to keep them fresh.

You can use these Economic Summaries to see how your area is doing. If you have questions about this information, feel free to contact one of our BLS Regional Information Offices. We provide these gold-standard data to help you make smart decisions, such as, do you want to stay in your metro area? Or does another catch your eye?!

*A note to our readers that the above data are not seasonally adjusted and some may be subject to revision. Area definitions may differ by subject. For more area summaries and geographic definitions, please see our Economic Summaries.

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