Total compensation costs double from 1981 to 1997

October 29, 1998

Between June 1981 and December 1997, total compensation costs increased 100 percent for civilian workers, including those in private industry and State and local governments. Benefits costs increased by 126 percent, compared with a 92-percent increase in wages and salaries.

Changes in wages and salaries and benefit costs, civilian workers, 1982-97
[Chart data—TXT]

From 1982 to 1984, the increase in benefits costs averaged 7.3 percent annually (December to December), a rate 2.0 percent more than the increase for wages and salaries during the same period.

Benefit cost increases slowed between 1985-87. Wage and salary costs increased at the same average annual rate (3.8 percent) as benefit costs during the period. The benefit cost slowdown occurred because of a decline in the growth of health insurance costs, a rapid fall in the growth of retirement plan costs, and smaller increases in the Social Security tax rate.

Beginning in 1988, the rate of increase in health insurance costs accelerated once more, and a Social Security tax increase took effect in January. The 1988 increase in benefit costs rose to 7.0 percent. Benefit costs rose more rapidly than wages each year through 1994.

From 1995 to 1997, benefit cost increases averaged 2.1 percent, and lagged behind wage and salary cost increases each year. The moderation in benefit costs from 1995-97 reflected a renewed slowdown in the rate of increases of health insurance costs, and continuing moderation in the cost of workers' compensation and State unemployment insurance.

These data are a product of the BLS Employment Cost Trends program. Additional information is available from the bulletin, Employment Cost Indexes, 1975-97 (PDF 385K).


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Total compensation costs double from 1981 to 1997 on the Internet at (visited September 24, 2016).


Recent editions of Spotlight on Statistics

  • A look at healthcare spending, employment, pay, benefits, and prices
    As one of the largest U.S. industries, healthcare is steadily growing to meet the needs of an increasing population with an increasing life expectancy. This Spotlight looks at how much people spend on healthcare, current and projected employment in the industry, employer-provided healthcare benefits, healthcare prices, and pay for workers in healthcare occupations.

  • Employment and Wages in Healthcare Occupations
    Healthcare occupations are a significant percentage of U.S. employment. Some of the largest and highest paying occupations are in healthcare. This Spotlight examines employment and wages for healthcare occupations.

  • Fifty years of looking at changes in peoples lives
    Longitudinal surveys help us understand long-term changes, such as how events that happened when a person was in high school affect labor market success as an adult.