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Occupation

Occupation describes the kind of work the person does on the job. These data are derived from responses to write-in questions that are clerically coded by Census Bureau staff. The coding system consists of 509 specific occupational categories for employed people, including military, arranged into 23 major occupational groups.

The primary sources of occupation data 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 industry 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.

Why We Collect these Data

These questions describe the work activity and occupational experience 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 Medicaid, and plans to use the county-level information to develop its county and state per capita income estimates.

Information about occupation 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.

Question 45 - What kind of work was this person doing?
(For example: registered nurse, personnel manager, supervisor of order department, secretary, accountant) Fill-in-the-blank field

Question 46 - What were this person's most important activities or duties?
Describe the activity at the location where employed. (For example: patient care, directing hiring policies, supervising order clerks, typing and filing, reconciling financial records) (Fill-in-the-blank field)

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 unemployed people and people who are not currently employed but report having a job within the last five years, the data refer to their last job.

The questions on occupation were designed to be consistent with the 1990 Census questions on occupation. ACS questions on occupation have remained consistent between 1996 and 2009. Minor changes were implemented to the formatting, numbering of questions, and examples provided.

Written responses to the occupation questions are coded using the occupational classification system developed for Census 2000 and modified in 2002. This system consists of 509 specific occupational categories for employed people, including military, arranged into 23 major occupational groups. This classification was developed based on the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Manual: 2000, published by the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. Starting with the 2010 ACS, coding will switch to the new 2010 edition of the SOC.

Some occupation groups are closely related to certain industries. Operators of transportation equipment, farm operators and workers, and health care providers account for major portions of their respective industries of transportation, agriculture, and health care. However, the industry categories include people in other occupations. For example, people employed in the transportation industry include mechanics, freight handlers, and payroll clerks; people employed in agriculture include truck drivers and bookkeepers; and people employed in the health care profession include janitors, security guards, and secretaries.

For full code lists and other technical information, please see our Methodology page.

Limitations of the Data and Comparison across Time and Data Sources

Occasionally respondents supply occupation descriptions that are not sufficiently specific for precise classification, or they do not report on these questions at all. Certain types of incomplete entries are corrected using the Alphabetical Index of Industries and Occupations. If one or more of the three codes (occupation, industry, or class of worker) is blank after edit procedures, a code is assigned from a donor respondent who is a “similar” person based on questions such as age, sex, educational attainment, income, employment status, and weeks worked. If all of the labor force and income data are blank, all of these economic questions are assigned from a “similar” person who had provided all the necessary data.

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.

Comparability of occupation data across time and across data sources is affected by a number of factors, primarily the system used to classify the questionnaire responses. Changes in the occupational classification system limit comparability of the data from one year to another, and with surveys that use older coding systems (see below).

These changes are needed to recognize the “birth” of new occupations, the “death” of others, the growth and decline in existing occupations, and the desire of analysts and other users for more detail in the presentation of the data. Probably the greatest cause of non-comparability is the movement of a segment from one category to another. Changes in the nature of jobs, respondent terminology, and refinement of category composition made these movements necessary. So while the ACS occupation questions have changed little, the codes used for occupation have changed over the history of the ACS. The codes have changed as a result of changes to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), which guides the coding structure implemented for all federal agencies. The initial ACS used 3-digit Census codes based on 1990 SOC codes. Because of the possibility of new occupations being added to the list of codes, the Census Bureau needed to have more flexibility in adding codes. Consequently, in 2002, census occupation codes were expanded from three-digit codes to four-digit codes. For occupation, this entailed adding a “0” to the end of each occupation code. In 2010, the ACS transitioned to 2010 SOC codes. For more information on occupational comparability across classification systems, please see Technical Paper #65: The Relationship Between the 1990 Census and Census 2000 Industry and Occupation Classification Systems [PDF - 2.5M] Technical Paper #65: The Relationship Between the 1990 Census and Census 2000 Industry and Occupation Classification Systems.


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Industry and Occupation |  Last Revised: 2013-03-28T16:08:41.062-04:00