A worker’s occupational category
Why it matters
An individual’s occupation type can help or hinder their ability to achieve economic mobility and security. Across industries, individuals in management occupations earn the highest median wages ($109,760 annually, as of 2020), whereas individuals in food preparation and serving occupations earn the lowest median wages ($25,500 annually, as of 2020). Other high-wage categories include occupations in computer science, law, engineering, and business, whereas other low-wage categories include jobs in personal care and service, health care support, and building maintenance. Nearly half of American workers are employed in low-wage jobs (defined as earning less than approximately $20 per hour), and low-wage jobs generally provide limited opportunities for advancement and upward mobility.
What to know about measurement
The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes wage data by occupational category (using the Standard Occupational Classification [SOC] system), job characteristics, and industry. Within the SOC system, occupations are categorized into 22 major categories (such as “management occupations” and “food preparation and serving occupations,” described above), and 92 minor categories (such as “top executives” and “cooks and food preparation workers”). SOC codes can be linked to fields of postsecondary study using a “CIP-SOC Crosswalk,” a joint effort by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which matches six-digit Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes with six-digit SOC codes. The Census Bureau also provides information on how to map SOC codes to industry codes from the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS), which is used to classify employers’ industries. Wage records in state unemployment insurance systems contain information on the employer’s industry but do not always report the employee’s occupation, although in recent years some states have added SOC codes to wage records, as there can be several occupations within an industry.
This disaggregate is required for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act reporting. It did not appear in any other source frameworks reviewed for this report.
The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.