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What are industry, occupation, and class of worker, and why are they important?

Industry is the type of activity at a person’s place of work; occupation is the kind of work a person does to earn a living; and class of worker categorizes people according to the type of ownership of the employing organization. These data are relevant to a wide range of uses. For more information on the definitions of these measures and their applications, please see the About page.

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Where can I obtain industry, occupation, and class of worker data?

The primary source of these data since 2005 is the American Community Survey (ACS), an annual, nationally-representative survey that replaces the decennial census long form. They are also collected on other surveys, such as the Current Population Survey, and on older decennial censuses. Most of these sources are available online; please see the Data page.

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Are there any industry, occupation, and class of worker Census products with other demographic, social, and economic characteristics?

Yes; the Census Bureau publishes data products that tabulate these data with a number of other measures, including age, sex, race, and income. There are also public use microdata samples (PUMS) with which users can create their own tabulations. For data links, a list of ACS tables, and other information, please see the Data page.

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Where can I find detailed data to use when creating my affirmative action plans?

The Census Bureau produces a file called the Special Equal Employment Opportunity Tabulation (EEO File) that tabulates detailed occupational data with several demographic and social characteristics for all geographies. The most recent EEO File was produced with data from ACS 5-year data from 2006-2010; a new file will be released in Winter 2021 using ACS 5-year data from the 2014-2018 period. The file and associated documentation are available through a dedicated EEO web page, which includes an online data tool. Please note that the Census Bureau is not responsible for, and cannot assist with, Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reporting.

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If the data that I need are not available, can I request a special tabulation for industry, occupation, and/or class of worker?

Yes, though users are advised to explore the possibilities of creating their own tabulations using the public use microdata samples (PUMS) first. If you are interested in requesting a custom tabulation from the Census Bureau, at your own expense, there is a unified request system detailed on the ACS site. Note that the minimum cost is $2,000 and all requests must be approved by the Disclosure Review Board to protect the confidentiality of survey respondents.

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What are the classification systems for industry and occupation?

There are two standard classifications that are used throughout the federal government: the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) and the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), which are regularly updated to account for changes in the structure of the economy and in the needs of data users. Both systems are adapted by the Census Bureau to create the Census codes and categories that appear in our microdata and published data products.

The NAICS was developed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico to provide comparable industry statistics across the three countries, and it replaced the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) as the federal standard in 1997. It is a comprehensive system covering the entire field of economic activities. Detailed information about the structure of the 2017 NAICS, the most recent, can be found on the Census NAICS page.

The SOC is the federal government’s own regularly-updated system for classifying occupations, which are grouped according to the nature of the work performed. This system provides a mechanism for cross-referencing and aggregating occupation-related data collected by social and economic statistical reporting programs. Information on the structure and definitions of the 2010 SOC, the most recent, can be found on the BLS SOC page.

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How does the NAICS compare to the SIC?

Much of the layout is similar, and users are able to obtain data for more than two thirds of all 4-digit SICs from the new 6-digit NAICS. However, there are some very basic differences between the two. The SIC had only 9 divisions, while NAICS has 20 sectors. Also, the SIC designated establishments as being either “operating establishments” or “auxiliary establishments” and the SIC code was assigned to auxiliaries based on the economic activities of the enterprise and a single digit identifier was assigned to describe the actual activities of the auxiliary unit. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) which replaced the SIC in 1997 is based on a production-oriented or supply-based conceptual framework which does not make a distinction between ‘auxiliary’ and ‘operating’ establishments and classifies all establishments on the basis of what they do without regard to whom they serve.

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How do the SOC editions (2000/2010) compare to the old SOC (1980)?

The old SOC was made up of 22 divisions organized into a 4-digit hierarchical structure. The 2000 SOC systems use a 6-digit structure for its occupational categories, divided into 23 major groups which are sometimes called "job families." The general concept behind "job families" is to put all people who work together into the same group regardless of their skill level. So, for example, in the 2000 SOC doctors, nurses, and health technicians are all in the same group instead of in different groups. Similarly, first-line supervisors are in the same groups as the workers they supervise, and helpers are in the same groups as the workers they help. Please see Revising the Standard Occupational Classification System for more information on the transition from the 1980 to the 2000 system.

The changes from the 2000 to 2010 SOC were much more modest, with the 2010 version following the same basic hierarchical structure as the 2000 SOC. Most changes were modifications of individual categories to reflect changes in occupational structure and to incorporate requests of data users. In addition, a new set of detailed coding guidelines was added to supplement the broader classification principles. For more information on this revision, please see Revising the Standard Occupational Classification system for 2010.

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How do I compare industry and occupation data from different years if the classification systems have changed?

The federal government’s official classifications (NAICS and SOC, see above) are regularly updated and the Census Bureau always uses the most recent editions in developing its coding system. To aid data users in making comparisons across time, crosswalks have been developed which are available on the Publications page. For a general discussion of the changes to industry and occupation codes since 1990, see the About page.

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Is there a complete list of industry and occupation titles available for public use?

Yes; the Alphabetical Index of Industries and Occupations, which are used by the Census Bureau to code industry and occupation responses, are available in the Publications section of this website. The indexes are comprehensive lists of tens of thousands of specific industry and occupation names and are continuously updated through review of survey responses.

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How are the industry, occupation, and class of worker codes aggregated?

Cases are coded according to the most detailed level of the relevant classification system possible (accounting for factors such as disclosure concerns for small occupations), but the estimates are collected at various levels of aggregation for published data products. For industry and occupation, these levels parallel the hierarchy of the NAICS and SOC themselves, which include designated optional categories for aggregation above the level of sectors (NAICS) and major groups (SOC).

Aggregation for class of worker data is less symmetrical due to the nature of that measure. Rather than a strict hierarchy, there are two or three levels of aggregation available depending on the class, and estimates are reported in multiple combinations. For example, government workers might be reported collectively, or separately for federal, state, and local; and “Private-for-profit wage and salary workers” includes “Employee of private company workers” and “Self-employed in own incorporated business workers”, and these plus “Private-not-for-profit wage and salary workers” constitute “Private wage and salary workers”. For details, see the About Class of Worker page.

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Is there someone whom I can contact at the Census Bureau if I have technical questions related to industry, occupation, and class of worker data, or the EEO file?

Yes, the Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch is able to assist you. We can be reached through a central help line; please contact us for details.

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How does the new SOC editions (2018) compare to the old SOC (2010)?

The changes from the 2010 to 2018 SOC were more significant compared to changes between 2000 and 2010.  Most changes were detail occupational breakouts of existing individual categories and the inclusion of new occupations to reflect changes in occupational structure and to incorporate requests of data users.  In addition, a new set of detailed coding guidelines was added to supplement the broader classification principles. For more information on this revision, please see 2018 Standard Occupational Classification System and What’s New in the 2018 SOC.

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