National Compensation Measures: Presentation

The National Compensation Survey (NCS) produces indexes measuring change over time in labor costs through the Employment Cost Index (ECI) and the level of average costs per hour worked through the Employer Costs for Employee Compensation (ECEC). The NCS provides benefits per incidence for the percentage of workers with access to and participating in employer-sponsored benefit plans. The survey covers a broad range of benefits including holidays and vacations, sick leave, health and life insurance, and retirement plans. Details of employer-provided health and retirement plan provisions are also available. The NCS program’s webpage is available at www.bls.gov/ncs/

Users and Uses

Data from the NCS are used for a variety of reasons by the private sector including to aid in collective bargaining negotiations, evaluate benefit packages, analyze contract settlements, guide decisions in business or plant location, assist in wage and salary administration, and adjust wages in long-term contracts. The public sector also uses the NCS to formulate and assess public policy, aid collective bargaining negotiations, evaluate benefit packages, analyze contract settlements, index Medicare payments, and formulate monetary policy. Some examples by product are listed below.

Employment Cost Index (ECI)

  • Active-duty military pay adjustments. In 1999, with a widening gap between military and private industry pay, Congress enacted legislation that tied annual military pay increases to the annual increase in the ECI plus 0.5 percent. For more information on military pay determination, see Military Compensation.
  • Federal pay adjustments. The ECI is used to determine white-collar pay adjustments under the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act (FEPCA), see General Schedule Classification and Pay.
  • Adjustments to Medicare reimbursements. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, uses estimates from the ECI to determine allowable increases in reimbursements to hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities, and home maintenance organizations under Medicare's Prospective Payment Systems (PPS), see The Employment Cost Index and the impact on Medicare Reimbursements, 2017.
  • Escalator clauses in government contracts. Governments use the ECI series in labor contracts. For example, the Virginia department of transportation (VDOT) uses the professional, scientific, and technical services private industry wage series to adjust billable rates, see Escalation Rate for Professional Services Contracts.
  • Adjusting labor costs. ECI series are used in adjusting personnel costs in education. For example, Fairfax County government uses a market rate adjustment to maintain pay competiveness.

Employer Costs for Employee Compensation (ECEC)

Benefits incidence and detailed provisions

  • Planning and improving company benefits. NCS data commonly are used as a guide when companies choose the provisions for their benefit plans. In addition, companies may improve benefit packages to remain competitive in the labor market.
  • Lowering turnover rates. To attract and retain workers, employers may provide additional benefits. Using NCS data, employers can evaluate benefits that are available to employees nationally by worker and establishment characteristics.
  • Aiding collective bargaining negotiations. Collective bargaining units renegotiate their contracts at various times. The bargaining unit may want to add a new benefit, such as flexible workplace arrangements, to an agreement. The bargaining unit and the employer can use NCS benefits data to assist them in decisionmaking.
  • Assessing health care premiums. Companies can compare the premiums it currently pays for health benefits with nationwide averages. The comparison helps the established company assess its health benefits or negotiate contracts with insurance companies.
  • Assessing and formulating public policy. NCS benefits data were used to design defined benefit plans and savings and thrift plans for federal employees.
  • Researching current benefit issues. Students, consultants, and researchers use benefits data frequently to investigate a particular issue pertaining to benefits or may focus on a few years of previous data to develop research on trends or other benefit issues.

Accessing data

A comprehensive set of recent NCS data is available on the BLS website.

Employment Cost Index

News Release (Latest) (Archived)

Historical and Health Benefit Tables

Standard Errors

Seasonal Factors

Videos and Graphics

Public Database Tools

Employer Costs for Employee Compensation:

News Release (Latest) (Archived)

Historical, Supplemental, and Relative Standard Error Tables

Public Database Tools

Employee Benefits:

News Release (Latest) (Archived)

Employee Benefits in the United States (Latest) (Archived)

Health and Retirement Plan Provisions in Private Industry (Latest) (Archived)

Health and Retirement Plan Provisions in State and Local Government (Latest) (Archived)

Public Database Tools

Special tabulation requests

The NCS processes requests for special tabulations of data not available elsewhere. Requests are evaluated and processed according to resource availability and complexity of the request. The NCS is not designed to produce estimates for individual states. Requests for additional geographic detail will be denied. All special tabulations of data are reviewed for reliability and confidentiality prior to release, which may limit the data provided. If the special tabulation data are cited, the user should indicate that the data are unpublished estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Compensation Survey and provide the associated reference period. To submit a request for special tabulation of data, complete the NCS online form, enter “special data request” in the subject line and indicate the scope of the request. BLS staff evaluating the request will respond and ask for clarification, if necessary. When making a special data request, users should provide a detailed explanation of the scope that includes ownership (civilian, private, and state and local government), industry, occupation, worker and establishment characteristics, and time period. This detailed explanation will expedite the evaluation. Users looking to conduct econometric analysis should consider submitting proposals through BLS Restricted Data Access.

Availability of micro data

The NCS micro data are available on a limited basis to researchers who want to conduct valid statistical analyses. Researchers are encouraged to apply for access as early as possible and to discuss the project with appropriate BLS contacts prior to submitting an application. For more information see BLS Restricted Data Access.

Last Modified Date: December 15, 2017