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Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on Productivity and Costs Statistics

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting daily life for the entire country. The President declared a national emergency in the United States on March 13, 2020.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is open for business and is continuing to assess how this national emergency affects our operations and data products. How COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts may affect key economic indicators produced by BLS will depend, in part, on efforts taken by our various data partners. We have provided information below about our programs and will continue to update this information to keep you informed.

Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic and Response on Quarterly Productivity and Costs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics produces preliminary and revised quarterly measures of Productivity and Costs eight times a year, roughly 1 week following the advance and second estimates of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which are released about 30 and 60 days after the end of the quarter. Productivity and Costs are Principal Federal Economic Indicators that measure quarterly labor productivity and unit labor costs for the nonfarm business, business, manufacturing, and nonfinancial sectors of the economy. Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked by all persons, including employees, proprietors, and unpaid family workers. Unit labor costs are ratios of current dollar hourly compensation to labor productivity.

  1. What source data will be affected by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts? BLS combines data from multiple sources to construct quarterly estimates of productivity and costs. Our source data for both quarterly real output and current dollar compensation for the nonfarm business, business, and nonfinancial sectors are provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). These data are closely related to, and published at the same time as, GDP. The quarterly labor productivity and unit labor costs data for major sectors are typically published shortly following publication of GDP for each quarter. Quarterly trends in real output for the manufacturing sector are derived from the Federal Reserve Industrial Production Index.

    The primary source data for hours of employees is the BLS Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, an establishment survey. Hours data from the CES are the basis for about 90 percent of nonfarm business sector hours worked. The source for hours worked by proprietors and unpaid family workers is the Current Population Survey (CPS), a household survey that is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for BLS.

    The impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on these sources of data will vary. Additional information concerning source data can be found on our data providers’ websites.
  2. Will the news release schedule be affected by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts? We anticipate no change to the 2020 news release schedule.
  3. Will BLS attempt to quantify the overall impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on productivity estimates? BLS will continue to measure quarterly changes in productivity. Estimates of productivity growth for 2020 will include the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts and many other factors. It may not be possible to isolate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on quarterly productivity trends. In addition, because early estimates are based on a combination of data and projections, it is likely that these estimates will be subject to larger-than-normal revisions. Apart from data considerations, the timing of actual changes in output and hours also could result in large quarter-to-quarter changes in labor productivity. As information develops on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on our source data, BLS will do its best to inform data users about how these issues impact our data with a specific news release technical page while the nation is under the COVID-pandemic restrictions. It is important to remember that disentangling COVID-19 caused disruptions may not be possible due to the pervasive nature of these disruptions and economic events.

Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic and Response on Productivity and Costs for Industries and States

BLS combines data from multiple sources to construct estimates of productivity statistics and related data across a wide range of industries in the United States, as well as state-level measures. These data capture trends in the type of work American workers are doing and the efficiency with which various industries convert inputs into outputs, at both the national and sub-national level. Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked by all persons, including employees, proprietors, and unpaid family workers.

  1. What source data will be affected by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts? Data on industry inputs and output are drawn from other publicly available sources. These include, primarily, economic censuses and surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau and BLS data such as the Current Employment Statistics survey, the Current Population Survey, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the Producer Price Index, and the Consumer Price Index. In addition, measures of output at the state-level come from the Bureau of Economic Analysis GDP-by-State measures. The impact of COVID-19 on these sources of data will vary. If data from these sources are published on schedule, the related productivity and costs will also be published on schedule. If some of these data are not available, BLS will publish statistics for which we have sufficient data to generate estimates. Additional information concerning source data can be found on our data providers’ websites.
  2. Will the news release schedule be impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts? Upcoming Productivity and Costs by Industry news releases will present annual data for 2019. At this time, there are no expected changes to this release schedule. This is subject to change if the availability of the 2019 source data is impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts. Productivity and Costs by Industry and State-level Productivity for 2020, are expected to be released in 2021. To the extent that publication of annual source data for 2020 are delayed, there is the possibility that the productivity data may also be delayed. At present, the first release of 2020 Productivity Trends for Industries is expected to be released in Spring 2021. State-level measures for 2020 are expected to be released in Summer 2021.
  3. Will BLS attempt to quantify the overall impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on state and industry productivity estimates? BLS will continue, as always, to measure annual changes in productivity for a large number of industries. Estimates of annual productivity growth for 2020 will include the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts as well as many other factors, and it may not be possible to isolate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on industry and state-level productivity trends. As information on the impact of COVID-19 on our source data develops, BLS will do its best to inform data users about how these issues impact our data, but it may not be possible to quantify these impacts.

Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic and Response on Multifactor Productivity Trends

Multifactor Productivity Trends for major sectors and industries are published on an annual basis. Preliminary estimates of private business and private nonfarm business sectors are published three months after the reference year and industry level estimates are published 13 months after the reference year. Multifactor productivity, also known as total factor productivity, is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of combined inputs used to produce that output. Inputs can include labor, capital, energy, materials, and purchased services.

  1. What source data will be impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts? BLS combines data from multiple sources to construct estimates of multifactor productivity. Estimates for multifactor productivity use annual data from the Current Employment Statistics survey, Current Population Survey, BLS Industry Productivity Statistics, and various surveys from the Census Bureau and the BEA GDP-by-Industry Accounts. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on these sources of data will vary. If data from these sources are published on schedule, the related productivity and costs will also be published on schedule. If some of these data are not available, BLS will publish statistics for which we have sufficient data to generate estimates. Additional information concerning source data can be found on our data providers’ websites.
  2. Will the news release schedule be impacted by COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts? Preliminary private nonfarm business multifactor productivity for 2019 were released on March 24, 2020, “Multifactor Productivity Trends, 2019.” BLS also released “Multifactor Productivity Trends in Manufacturing — 2018” on January 28, 2020. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts had yet to impact the United States and thus did not impact those releases. The next multifactor productivity release, “Multifactor Productivity Trends for Detailed Industries,” is scheduled to be released in August 2020. This release will present data through 2018. There is no anticipated change to this schedule. At present, preliminary “Multifactor Productivity Trends — 2020” is expected to be released in early 2021.
  3. Will BLS attempt to quantify the overall impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts on productivity estimates? The primary goal for multifactor productivity estimates is, as always, to provide accurate estimates of multifactor productivity. Estimates of annual productivity growth for 2020 will include the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and response efforts as well as many other factors, and it may not be possible to isolate the impact on multifactor productivity trends. Comparisons of 2020 multifactor productivity trends against those of recent years and the previous three business cycles may provide a general indication of the impacts at the national level. As information on the impact of COVID-19 on our source data develops, BLS will do its best to inform data users about how these issues impact our data, but it may not be possible to quantify these impacts.

Last Modified Date: August 14, 2020