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Labor Productivity and Costs
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A Closer Look: Wholesale Trade and Retail Trade Industries


Labor productivity for wholesale trade and retail trade industries

On July 29, 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updated measures for 46 detailed industries in Productivity and Costs by Industry: Wholesale Trade and Retail Trade Industries - 2020. Chart 1 from the news release illustrates the industries with the largest increases and decreases in productivity in 2020. All six NAICS 4–digit trade industries with the highest productivity growth ranked in the bottom third by employment size. Five of the six NAICS 4–digit industries with the largest declines in productivity ranked in the top third by employment size.

Chart 1. Largest changes in productivity in NAICS 4-digit wholesale and retail trade industries, 2020 Chart 1. Largest changes in productivity in NAICS 4-digit wholesale and retail trade industries, 2020
Chart 1 data. Largest changes in productivity in NAICS 4-digit wholesale and retail trade industries, 2020
Chart 1. Largest changes in productivity in NAICS 4-digit wholesale and retail trade industries, 2020
IndustryNAICS codeEmploymentOutputHoursLabor Productivity

Book stores and news dealers

451254.96.2-32.858.1

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores

4483133.33.6-23.535.4

Vending machine operators

454237.2-10.1-29.126.7

Other motor vehicle dealers

4412160.916.9-7.125.9

Florists

453167.411.2-1124.9

Beer, wine, and liquor stores

4453176.316.1-1.818.3

Building material and supplies dealers

44411228.310.813.4-2.3

Department stores

4522948.6-12.4-10-2.7

Clothing stores

4481762.1-24.7-21.3-4.3

Metal and mineral merchant wholesalers

4235126.4-15.7-11.9-4.4

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

425495.6-8.1-3.6-4.7

Gasoline stations

447940.9-5.4-0.5-5.0

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


In 2020, the wholesale trade sector (NAICS 42) comprised 4.0 percent of nonfarm business sector employment (5.64 million workers) and 5.8 percent of U.S. GDP. The retail trade sector (NAICS 44,45) employed approximately 14.85 million workers, or 10.4 percent of all total nonfarm employees in 2020, while contributing 5.7 percent to GDP.


On This Page:

  • Annual Data on Labor Productivity and Related Measures

  • Analysis

  • Inquiries and Feedback

  • 2020, assessing the essential

    The BLS productivity program publishes productivity data for detailed industries on an annual basis using source data and estimation methods as described in the BLS Handbook of Methods. Here we compare the impact on a couple of those industries deemed essential for the reference year 2020. Employers and workers in various industries differed in how they were able to respond to the year's unique and unexpected challenges.

    Gasoline stations

    While some essential businesses saw pumped up traffic in 2020, the gas station industry was not as fortunate. Output and productivity fell at the highest rates for as far back as BLS has data. Hours also declined but at a much slower rate than output. (See chart 2.) Furthermore, in 2020, gasoline stations had the largest decline in productivity among all the trade industries.

    Chart 2. Gasoline stations (NAICS 4471) output, hours, and productivity annual rates, 1988-2020

    Chart 2. Gasoline stations (NAICS 4471) output, hours, and productivity annual rates, 1988-2020

    Chart 2 data. Gasoline stations (NAICS 4471) output, hours, and productivity annual rates, 1988-2020
    Chart 2. Gasoline stations (NAICS 4471) output, hours, and productivity annual rates, 1988-2020
    YearOutputHoursProductivity

    1988

    3.61.52.1

    1989

    1.80.71.1

    1990

    -0.12.2-2.3

    1991

    -0.7-2.72.0

    1992

    -0.7-2.82.1

    1993

    4.2-0.14.3

    1994

    4.90.74.2

    1995

    2.9-0.93.8

    1996

    2.02.1-0.1

    1997

    2.11.11.0

    1998

    5.0-1.06.1

    1999

    2.2-2.24.5

    2000

    -3.2-0.5-2.8

    2001

    1.9-3.35.4

    2002

    3.8-5.610.0

    2003

    -1.51.4-2.9

    2004

    3.71.52.1

    2005

    -0.9-2.81.9

    2006

    0.91.7-0.9

    2007

    -0.1-3.33.3

    2008

    -4.3-4.0-0.3

    2009

    0.8-2.83.7

    2010

    -1.0-0.2-0.8

    2011

    -2.61.4-3.9

    2012

    1.00.70.3

    2013

    1.62.4-0.7

    2014

    1.30.80.5

    2015

    6.74.52.1

    2016

    5.7-0.36.0

    2017

    -1.31.3-2.6

    2018

    -1.81.8-3.5

    2019

    0.10.00.1

    2020

    -5.4-0.5-5.0

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

     

    As the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020, travel came to a screeching halt. As seen in chart 3, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows a sharp drop in demand for gasoline as travel for both business and pleasure declined. The weak demand also impacted the oil and gas extraction industry and the petroleum and coal products manufacturing industry. People who did venture out were met with lower prices at the pump.

    Chart 3. U.S. gasoline demand in million barrels per day, 2019 and 2020

    Chart 3. U.S. gasoline demand in million barrels per day, 2019 and 2020

    Chart 3 data. U.S. gasoline demand in million barrels per day, 2019 and 2020
    Chart 3. U.S. gasoline demand in million barrels per day, 2019 and 2020
    2019 Dates2019 4-week averages2020 Dates2020 4-week averages

    January 4, 2019

    8.98725January 3, 20208.952

    January 11, 2019

    8.81775January 10, 20208.73875

    January 18, 2019

    8.69775January 17, 20208.5785

    January 25, 2019

    8.933January 24, 20208.5365

    February 1, 2019

    9.0175January 31, 20208.7365

    February 8, 2019

    9.03825February 7, 20208.7775

    February 15, 2019

    9.02125February 14, 20208.8415

    February 22, 2019

    8.8755February 21, 20208.902

    March 1, 2019

    8.87275February 28, 20208.96525

    March 8, 2019

    8.99575March 6, 20209.147

    March 15, 2019

    9.148March 13, 20209.3415

    March 22, 2019

    9.18375March 20, 20209.292

    March 29, 2019

    9.201March 27, 20208.66025

    April 5, 2019

    9.3675April 3, 20207.56425

    April 12, 2019

    9.37025April 10, 20206.4105

    April 19, 2019

    9.4415April 17, 20205.529

    April 26, 2019

    9.46575April 24, 20205.32925

    May 3, 2019

    9.482May 1, 20205.729

    May 10, 2019

    9.414May 8, 20206.30825

    May 17, 2019

    9.419May 15, 20206.678

    May 24, 2019

    9.4605May 22, 20207.02625

    May 31, 2019

    9.353May 29, 20207.2475

    June 7, 2019

    9.53525June 5, 20207.373

    June 14, 2019

    9.66June 12, 20207.643

    June 21, 2019

    9.678June 19, 20207.98175

    June 28, 2019

    9.69075June 26, 20208.23475

    July 5, 2019

    9.66July 3, 20208.45125

    July 12, 2019

    9.4815July 10, 20208.64575

    July 19, 2019

    9.53325July 17, 20208.63125

    July 26, 2019

    9.55July 24, 20208.69325

    August 2, 2019

    9.52425July 31, 20208.656

    August 9, 2019

    9.70375August 7, 20208.71475

    August 16, 2019

    9.692August 14, 20208.73475

    August 23, 2019

    9.77725August 21, 20208.82275

    August 30, 2019

    9.73225August 28, 20208.865

    September 6, 2019

    9.701September 4, 20208.74175

    September 13, 2019

    9.52925September 11, 20208.70375

    September 20, 2019

    9.39075September 18, 20208.54225

    September 27, 2019

    9.30725September 25, 20208.478

    October 4, 2019

    9.2205October 2, 20208.6045

    October 11, 2019

    9.32425October 9, 20208.629

    October 18, 2019

    9.38525October 16, 20208.5725

    October 25, 2019

    9.547October 23, 20208.5765

    November 1, 2019

    9.46825October 30, 20208.4365

    November 8, 2019

    9.46November 6, 20208.483

    November 15, 2019

    9.3605November 13, 20208.47525

    November 22, 2019

    9.2155November 20, 20208.37125

    November 29, 2019

    9.18725November 27, 20208.2805

    December 6, 2019

    9.0775December 4, 20207.99

    December 13, 2019

    9.13225December 11, 20207.91925

    December 20, 2019

    9.157December 18, 20207.8925

    December 27, 2019

    9.13925December 25, 20207.93125

    January 3, 2020

    8.952January 1, 20217.8915

    Source: U.S. Energy Information Association

     

    Hours worked by gasoline station employees declined at a much slower rate than output, largely due to being deemed essential and remaining open throughout the shutdowns. The gasoline stations industry group (NAICS 4471) is comprised of two detailed industries: gasoline stations with convenience stores (NAICS 447110) and other gasoline stations (NAICS 447190). Ninety percent of the total hours worked at gasoline stations in 2020 were at those with convenience stores. Gasoline stations with convenience stores saw a slight uptick in hours worked in 2020 but stand-alone gasoline stations saw a large reduction in hours worked causing the slight decline in gasoline stations overall. Gasoline stations with convenience stores were able to shift their focus to the convenience store side to attract customers. They were able to utilize online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery of their products which included grocery items, made to order food, coffee, and alcohol. As such, gasoline stations with convenience stores avoided cutting hours for their employees despite much lower fuel sales.

    Grocery: wholesale and retail

    If you are shopping for industries that had explosive productivity growth in 2020, you might just find the best bang for your buck in grocery stores. Labor productivity in Grocery Stores (NAICS 4451) accelerated 7.6 percent, achieving the largest one-year increase in labor productivity ever recorded in this industry. In a similar industry, Grocery and Related Products Merchant Wholesalers (NAICS 4244), productivity jumped 5.8 percent, the largest one-year rise since 2003.

    Chart 4. Grocery wholesale and retail industry output, hours, and productivity rates, 2020

    Chart 4 data. Grocery wholesale and retail industry output, hours, and productivity rates, 2020

    Chart 4 data. Grocery wholesale and retail industry output, hours, and productivity rates, 2020
    Chart 4 data. Grocery wholesale and retail industry output, hours, and productivity rates, 2020
    SeriesRetail (4451) Wholesale (4244)

    Productivity

    7.6%5.8%

    Output

    8.5%-2.5%

    Hours worked

    0.8%-7.8%

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

     

    Although both retail stores and grocery wholesalers saw exceptional productivity growth, they realized this growth in very different ways. Output vaulted and hours worked inched up in retail grocery stores but both output and hours fell in grocery wholesalers. (See chart 4.) The decline in hours for grocery wholesalers was the largest one-year decline in hours on record for this industry.

    So why did both output and hours increase in retail stores but decline for wholesalers?

    To answer this question, we need to understand what distinguishes retail grocery stores in NAICS 4451 from grocery wholesalers in NAICS 4244. Their customers are the key. Retail grocery stores sell groceries straight to consumers, but grocery wholesalers sell groceries in bulk to retail grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail vendors that then sell to consumers.

    American consumers spent approximately $1.56 trillion on food in 2020, representing a a 5.3 percent fall from 2019, only the second decline in the last 25 years. (See chart 5.) This decline was led by an 18.3 percent plunge in spending at restaurants, cafeterias, and other food-away-from-home venues. This fall far outweighed the 8.5 percent increase in spending on food-at-home.[1]

    Chart 5. U.S. monthly food sales, 2019-2020

    Chart 5. U.S. monthly food sales, 2019-2020

    Chart 5 data. U.S. monthly food sales, 2019-2020
    Chart 5 data. Monthly sales of food, with taxes and tips, for all purchasers (Millions of dollars)
    YearMonthFood-At-HomeFood-Away-From-Home

    2020

    December80,446.2059,478.10

    2020

    November74,369.7258,292.62

    2020

    October73,721.5464,735.28

    2020

    September70,391.7761,989.29

    2020

    August73,410.9963,779.48

    2020

    July74,914.8861,896.27

    2020

    June72,075.3658,053.89

    2020

    May75,467.1848,636.03

    2020

    April69,951.7235,716.41

    2020

    March80,197.8954,315.55

    2020

    February63,667.6668,364.01

    2020

    January65,927.4067,764.94

    2019

    December74,876.2273,010.26

    2019

    November70,014.5269,865.67

    2019

    October67,665.5772,372.41

    2019

    September64,398.0370,282.41

    2019

    August69,526.1376,211.56

    2019

    July68,341.6175,034.92

    2019

    June66,937.5774,846.09

    2019

    May69,200.6076,053.30

    2019

    April65,138.1371,371.07

    2019

    March66,432.7673,945.92

    2019

    February59,087.5564,274.30

    2019

    January64,255.1264,618.79

     

    By going out less for food at full-service restaurants, American consumers boosted sales at retail grocery stores and hurt sales for grocery wholesalers that supply full-service restaurants. Although some of the increase in spending on food-at-home passed through to grocery wholesalers, this did little to offset the loss in sales from restaurants and other food-away-from-home venues.

     

    Related resources

    Industries at a Glance: Wholesale Trade

    Industries at a Glance: Retail Trade

    Overview of BLS Productivity Statistics

     

    Notes

     

    Last Modified Date: September 29, 2021