Measuring the distribution of wages in the United States from 1996 through 2010 using the Occupational Employment Survey

Source: James R. Spletzer, Elizabeth Weber Handwerker, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, May 2014

The microdata collected by the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program provide a unique opportunity to study wage inequality in the United States using employer-provided survey data. These data contain information on establishment characteristics as well as on wages and occupations for the millions of employees who work in the 400,000 establishments surveyed each year. Using these data, we replicate many of the wage variance trends that other authors have found using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) of households. We show that most of the growth in wage inequality during the 1996–2009 period occurred within the private sector, within particular industry groups such as professional and business services, and within occupational groups such as healthcare occupations. Industry and particularly occupation explain more of overall wage variation in the (employer-reported) OES than in the (employee-reported) CPS. The amount of wage variance explained by occupation is also growing more quickly in the OES than in the CPS. In an examination not possible with the CPS data, we find that within the private sector, wage differences among establishments explain far more of the level and the trend of wage variance than do wage differences among occupations…