Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

What is the NCS?

The NCS is a BLS establishment survey of employee salaries, wages, and benefits. The survey is designed to produce data at local levels, within broad regions, and nationwide.

What are the differences between NCS occupational wage data and the Bureau's Occupation Employment Statistics Survey (OES) wage data?

Differences between the National Compensation Survey (NCS) and the Occupation Employment Statistics Survey (OES):

  • Both of these surveys provide information on wages and salaries by occupation but they have different strengths.
  • The OES survey provides earnings on an hourly and annual basis, including mean and median earnings for all areas — national, State, and MSAs — as well as 10th, 25th, 75th, and 90th percentile wage rate estimates for the nation. The NCS survey also provides mean earnings on an hourly and annual basis for all surveys and earnings distributions by the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th percentiles for some surveys. The OES is the larger survey and can provide a greater range of occupations and areas, while the NCS is conducted by personal visit and can provide greater depth by obtaining occupational work level.

The NCS occupational work level is based on the duties and responsibilities of the job. An architect, for example, who directs a major project would typically be more highly compensated than an architect preparing a small part of a project under direct supervision. To determine these "levels of work," each occupation is evaluated using four factors. This system also allows for pay comparisons to be made across occupations (for example, comparing architects to accountants with similar levels of responsibility).

  • The OES provides information for more different occupations. The NCS, on the other hand, provides information on the wages for the occupations it covers at specific levels of work, rather than just an average for all workers in the occupation.
  • The OES provides information for the nation, for states, and for all metropolitan areas. The NCS provides information for the nation, for selected metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas and for the 9 Census divisions.
  • If you want wage data for pay-setting purposes, and want to set pay according to the level of work that is being performed, the NCS is the better choice. If you need to know the general wage profile for a large number of occupations in a large number of areas, the OES is the better choice. If you need information by state, you will need to use the OES.
  • Both surveys include both full- and part-time workers who are paid a wage or salary. The NCS obtains actual work schedules from the establishment, while the OES assumes standardized schedules. Thus, if you need information on occupations in which the work schedule is atypical, you need to exercise caution in using the OES.
  • Both surveys exclude agriculture, fishing and forestry industries and private household workers; the NCS also excludes the federal government, while the OES includes federal civilian employment except for some national security agencies.
  • The NCS data are available at and the OES data are available at

How are occupations chosen and why?

Occupations are chosen through probability selection. Probability selection of occupations (PSO) is designed to obtain a statistically representative sample of occupations for both a survey area and nationwide. The resulting data are weighted to represent all workers without bias. This PSO method allows for the possibility of publishing data for any job group, not just for those jobs on a preset list. NOTE: One of PSO limitations is that not all jobs published in one area will necessarily publish in another area.

How can you compare areas with differing mixtures of jobs?

The NCS produces relative occupational pay comparisons between metropolitan areas and the United States as whole and similar areas-to-area comparisons for 78 metropolitan areas. The pay relatives are calculated controlling for differences among areas in occupational composition, establishment and occupational characteristics, and the fact that compensation data for metropolitan areas are collected at different times during the year. The pay relative approach controls for these differences to isolate the geographic effect on wage determination. For the latest information on NCS pay relative, see

Are data available for the entire U.S.? What about regional data?

Yes, we have national NCS data on the Web — see List of published NCS areas for links to these publications. Data for the 9 Census regions (New England, Middle Atlantic, East South Central, South Atlantic, East North Central, West North Central, West South Central, Mountain, and Pacific) are also available.

How can an employer use NCS data to set pay?

Publication of mean and median wages for occupations and for occupational groups in an area can be used by employers to determine how their pay for an occupation compares with that of the area. If certain employer occupations are not published, data on "benchmark occupations" — those occupations that may be common in a number of establishments — may be used to compare an employer's pay to pay in the area.

What areas do you survey?

List of published areas can be found at:


Last Modified Date: July 16, 2008