Measuring Oregon Employees’ Hourly Wages and Hours Worked

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

November 29, 2017

A frequent topic of conversation often relates to the overall health of the economy. In other words: “How’s business?” There are a number of reports and associated statistics used to answer this very broad question. Depending on what an individual wants to know, there is bound to be a selection of available and informative statistics.

Employment reports are among the most timely and broad indicators of economic activity. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics issues two commonly used reports: a household survey of the population, used to generate the unemployment rate; and a business survey used to determine payroll, workweek, and earnings information. These data are the first major economic indicators released each month. Because over time the national data have been a reliable measure of current economic activity and trends, these data are used in the development of fiscal and economy policy.

The Current Employment Statistics (CES) program produces detailed industry estimates of employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls. The CES survey of nonfarm industries relies on payroll employment data from a sample of businesses participating in the Unemployment Insurance program, which covers about 97 percent of all jobs on civilian payrolls. Nationally, the survey is based on roughly 147,000 businesses and government agencies representing approximately 634,000 worksites across the county. Data are published for both private and government sectors; however, hours and earnings data are published only for the private sector. In Oregon, the survey sample for hours and earnings data is roughly 1,500 businesses representing approximately 4,000 worksites. 
Organizing Data into Useful Information

Since many components of our economy are affected by regularly recurring seasonal factors, it is possible to take these identified effects into account (e.g., increased employment in the retail sector associated with holidays). By eliminating business shifts attributable to normal seasonal variation, it is easier to observe underlying economic trends. Seasonally adjusted current employment statistics are available on the national and state levels. Limited seasonally adjusted statistics are available for metropolitan areas, but only for total nonfarm payroll employment.

In addition to collecting employment data for all employees and the subsets of total number of women employees, nonsupervisory, construction, or production workers, the CES survey focuses on average weekly hours worked as well as average hourly earnings. Data are available for such private industries as construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation, and utilities; financial activities; professional and business services; educational and health services; and leisure and hospitality. Workers included are those on the payroll for full- and part-time work who received pay for any part of the pay period that includes the 12th day of the month.

Average Hours Trend Upwards During Economic Expansion

Not only do jobs in different industries pay different wages, the hours available for work also vary. Leisure and hospitality jobs are notoriously seasonal and can even be subject to time-of-day demands for varied staffing levels. The average weekly hours worked in Oregon’s hospitality-related jobs fluctuate depending on the time of year; they are also influenced by the overall economy’s health. The average hours worked hit a low during December 2008 in the midst of the Great Recession – at 23 hours per week. Peak employment occurs during the summer months – averaging nearly 27 hours per week. The average weekly wages reflect not only the fewer hours of employment but also lower wage rates. The average wage in December 2008 was $13 an hour; the summertime wage rate averaged just over $15 an hour.
In contrast, manufacturing employment offers close to a 40-hour workweek with wages substantially higher than those in the leisure and hospitality sector. In December 2008, manufacturing industry workers averaged about 38 hours of work per week with an average wage of $21 an hour. Post-Recession (summer 2017) hours worked averaged around 40 hours per week (sometimes more) with wages averaging nearly $24 an hour.

Overall, all nonfarm industries offer fewer hours of work than manufacturing but pay a greater average weekly wage. The greater number of weekly hours worked in manufacturing results in those employees earning more per week than other industry sectors.


The monthly Current Employment Statistics survey provides detailed estimates of employment, hours, and earnings of workers on nonfarm payrolls. The hours and earnings components of the survey offer insights into the overall health of Oregon’s industries as well as a look at underlying economic trends. Statistics are available on the national and state levels and for metropolitan areas.

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