Interactive: A new look at who earns what in the United States

Discussions of how wages vary for different workers are often abstract. Most analyses focus on just wage levels, paying little attention to who the workers are, what they do, or other factors—such as gender and race—that play a critical role in shaping the wage distribution. This interactive offers a new and more concrete look at the wage distribution in the United States, using data from the Current Population Survey to reveal how a worker’s wage is connected to their job as well as their gender and race.

The interactive divides the U.S. workforce into “deciles”—10 groups of equal size—ordered from least paid to highest paid. The simplest version of the interactive shows the top hourly wage paid within each tenth of the workforce. The bottom tenth of workers all make less than $8.76 per hour. The next tenth of workers make more than $8.76 but less than $10.37, and so on until the top tenth, where we report only the minimum pay required to enter the tenth decile.

To give an idea of the kinds of workers in each wage group, we list the three most common occupations within each decile. These occupations are a broad description of the jobs that workers perform (cook, nurse, or lawyer, for example). To give a sense of how much different jobs pay within each wage group, we also list each occupation’s wage ranges.

The interactive further lets you look separately at wages and occupations across gender (men and women) and race (whites, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asians) and see comparisons between these demographic groups.

How it works

To begin, let’s take a look at just the distribution for “all workers.” Here, you’ll learn that the lowest-paid workers (most commonly cashiers, waiters and waitresses, and retail salespersons) earn less than $8.76 per hour. Median-wage workers (such as first-line retail supervisors, drivers, and secretaries and administrative assistants) earn between $15.00 and $17.71 per hour. The highest-paid workers (managers, chief executives, and software developers, for example) make at least $42.13 per hour (and, in our data, up to well over $300 per hour).

You can also get more detail on the common occupations by clicking on a specific decile. When selecting the bottom decile, for instance, you’ll see that the three most common occupations in this lowest wage group—cashiers, waiters and waitresses, and retail salespersons—all have a wage range that rises above the bottom group. This is because the pay varies within each occupation, not just across occupations. Take the retail sales workers, for example. The lowest-paid retail workers earn $8.00 per hour, while the highest-paid salespersons can earn $28.00 per hour. Some occupations, such as retail salespersons, can span multiple wage groups. In fact, retail salespersons show up again as one of the most common occupations in the second and third deciles, as well.

Now, suppose you’re interested in seeing the wage distribution for women. The left-most dropdown menu in the interactive allows you to select “women,” or any other demographic group of interest, to find out what different wage groups get paid, what the most common occupations are in each wage group, and how pay varies across and within occupations.

You can even compare two demographic groups to each other. If you want to contrast the highest-paid white worker’s occupations to the highest-paid black worker’s occupations, for example, you can select “white” and “African American” respectively from each dropdown menu and click on the top decile to see just how much occupations and pay differ between the two groups.

Eager to start exploring the distribution all over again? Just hit the reset button at the top left of the interactive.


The data behind this interactive is derived from the Center for Economic and Policy Research extracts of the Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group. The CPS provides data on hourly wages, three-digit occupation categories, gender, and race and ethnicity, all of which were used to determine three key components:
1. A wage decile distribution

2. The top three occupations in each wage decile

3. The 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile hourly wage for each top occupation across the distribution

Each of these components is produced for all people, men, women, whites, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asians, allowing us to compare the results across different demographic groups.

First, to ensure we had a sufficiently large sample size for all the demographic groups, we pooled together the 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 CPS survey results. We further limited our sample to working-age persons (age 16 to 64). Next, we assigned a wage decile to each observation in the dataset based on their real (2014 dollars) hourly wages; this hourly wage variable includes earnings from overtime work. Using the maximum hourly wage in each decile, we constructed a wage threshold distribution. We use wage thresholds because the CPS does not capture earnings at the very top well. Using the average of the wage deciles would, therefore, be misleading for the top wage decile.

In order to determine the top three occupations in each wage decile, we relied on a qualitative approach. To find the share of people in each three-digit occupation group by decile, we used a weighted frequency tabulation. We then manually sorted through these occupational shares to ascertain the top three largest occupations for each decile. Finally, for each occupation across the distribution, we calculated the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile real hourly wage; these measures allow us to see the wage range of occupations that span multiple deciles.

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