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Class of Worker

Class of worker categorizes people according to the type of ownership of the employing organization. This variable identifies whether the respondent is salaried or self-employed, whether the person works in the private sector or in government, as well as other information. Assigning class of worker categories is, in most cases, independent of industry and occupation. The Census Bureau currently uses eight basic classifications for class of worker: private for-profit and private not-for-profit (among salaried workers), local government, state government, Federal government (for government workers), and self-employed not incorporated, self-employed incorporated, and unpaid family workers (for non-salaried workers). These basic classes are aggregated into various categories for different publications and purposes.

The primary sources of household class of worker data for the 50 states and the District of Columbia are currently the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Puerto Rico Community Survey, which collect the detailed data previously covered by the decennial census long forms. The ACS has collected class of worker data since the first survey in 1996. For the Island Areas—the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Guam, and American Samoa—the census long form is still the main data source.

Data on government employment specifically is separately collected by the Census Bureau on surveys of governments themselves—analogous to business establishment surveys—rather than households. Please see the Census Bureau Governments Division site for more information.

Why We Collect these Data

This question describes the work activity of the American labor force. Data are used to formulate policy and programs for employment, career development and training, and to measure compliance with antidiscrimination policies. Mandated reports for Congress on the labor force rely on the analysis of these characteristics. Further, the Bureau of Economic Analysis uses this information, in conjunction with other data, to develop its state per capita income estimates used in the allocation formulas or for eligibility criteria in many federal programs such as Medicaidk and plans to use the county-level information to develop its county and state per capita income estimates.

Information about class of worker is also important for creating jobs as companies use these data to decide where to locate new plants, stores, or offices. Agencies use these data to plan job training programs. Federal agencies use these data in litigation where employment discrimination is alleged. Locally, data are used to estimate the demand for staff in healthcare occupations and their geographic distribution based on these data.

How We Collect these Data

Question 41 - Was this person
Mark (X) ONE box. (Boxes located to the left of response categories)

  • an employee of a PRIVATE FOR-PROFIT company or business, or of an individual, for wages, salary, or commissions?
  • an employee of a PRIVATE NOT-FOR-PROFIT, tax-exempt, or charitable organization?
  • a local GOVERNMENT employee (city, county, etc.)?
  • a state GOVERNMENT employee?
  • a Federal GOVERNMENT employee?
  • SELF-EMPLOYED in own NOT INCORPORATED business, professional practice, or farm?
  • SELF-EMPLOYED in own INCORPORATED business, professional practice, or farm?
  • working WITHOUT PAY in family business or farm?

For employed people, the data refer to the person's job during the previous week. For those who worked two or more jobs, the data refer to the job where the person worked the greatest number of hours. For people who are unemployed or not in the labor force, but report having had a job within the last five years, the data refer to their last job.

The question is designed to be consistent with the 1990 and 2000 Census questions on class of worker. The 1996-1998 ACS question had an additional response category for “Active duty U.S. Armed Forces member.” People who marked this category were tabulated as Federal government workers. This was replaced by a check box added to the employer name questionnaire item in 1999. This check box is to be marked by anyone “now on active duty in the Armed Forces...” This information is used by the industry and occupation coders to assist in assigning proper industry codes for active duty military.

The major categories into which these classes are aggregated are as follows:
  • Private wage and salary workers  This includes people who worked for wages, salary, commission, tips, pay-in-kind, or piece rates for a private, for-profit employer or a private not-for-profit, tax-exempt or charitable organization. Self-employed people whose business was incorporated are included with private wage and salary workers because they are paid employees of their own companies. Published tabulations sometimes present data separately for the basic classes: "employee of private company workers" (a salaried employee in the for-profit sector), "private not-for-profit wage and salary workers," and "self-employed in own incorporated business workers." Also, “employee of private company workers” and “self-employed in own incorporated business workers” are often reported together as “private-for-profit wage and salary workers”.

  • Government workers  This includes people who were employees of any local, state, or Federal governmental unit, regardless of the activity of the particular agency. Often, the data are presented separately for the three levels of government. The government class of worker categories include all government workers, though they may work in industries other than public administration. For example, people who work in a public elementary school or city owned bus line are coded as local government class of workers.

  • Self-employed in own not incorporated business workers  This class includes people who worked for profit or fees in their own unincorporated business, profession, or trade, or who operated a farm. This class is often tabulated together with the following group, unpaid family workers.

  • Unpaid family workers  Includes people who worked without pay in a business or on a farm operated by a relative. Note that, on tabulations with earnings data, unpaid family workers may have earnings; this can be either from a second job (class of worker is assigned based on the job accounting for the most hours worked) or from previous employment (because the earnings reference period is the past year, while for class of worker it is the previous week).

Comparing the Data across Time and Data Sources

Data on occupation, industry, and class of worker are collected for the respondent’s current primary job or the most recent job for those who are not employed but have worked in the last 5 years. Other labor force questions, such as questions on earnings or work hours, may have different reference periods and may not limit the response to the primary job. Although the prevalence of multiple jobs is low, data on some labor force items may not exactly correspond to the reported occupation, industry, or class of worker of a respondent.

Also, beginning in 2006, the population in group quarters (GQ) was included in the ACS. Some types of GQ populations have class of worker distributions that are different from the household population. The inclusion of the GQ population could therefore have a noticeable impact on the class of worker distribution in some geographic areas with a substantial GQ population.

“Type of worker”, the equivalent measure contained on the externally-sponsored New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey (NYCHVS), is defined in much the same way as the ACS class of worker variable but only has six basic categories: state and local government workers are combined, as are the categories of “self-employed incorporated” and “self-employed unincorporated”. See the NYCHVS glossary for more information.

Similarly, class of worker data on the National Crime Victimization Survey is based on an even more collapsed system of four basic categories: private wage and salary, federal government, state/local government, and self-employed.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Industry and Occupation |  Last Revised: 2014-03-19T17:51:35.387-04:00