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Productivity and Costs by Industry: Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade, and Food Services and Drinking Places News Release

For release 10:00 a.m. (EDT) Thursday, July 25, 2019                                                 USDL-19-1343

Technical Information:  (202) 691-5606  •  productivity@bls.gov  •  www.bls.gov/lpc 
Media Contact:          (202) 691-5902  •  PressOffice@bls.gov


                                  PRODUCTIVITY AND COSTS BY INDUSTRY: WHOLESALE TRADE, 
                          RETAIL TRADE, AND FOOD SERVICES AND DRINKING PLACES INDUSTRIES - 2018

						  
Labor productivity rose 1.6 percent in wholesale trade, 3.2 percent in retail trade, and 1.6 percent 
in food services and drinking places in 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Unit 
labor costs, which reflect the total labor costs required to produce a unit of output, rose in wholesale 
trade and food services and drinking places and were unchanged in retail trade.

For wholesale trade in 2018, productivity, output, and hours worked all increased at a faster rate than 
in 2017. In retail trade and food services and drinking places, the growth in output continued to outpace
the growth in hours worked in 2018. In these two industry groups, growth in hours worked was slower in 
2018 compared to 2017 resulting in a larger productivity increase.

Among the six industries with the highest productivity growth, five reported growth in output while two 
industries showed growth in hours worked. Productivity growth was greatest in book stores and news 
dealers where the decline in hours worked far surpassed the decline in output.

Of the six industries with the largest declines in productivity, hours worked increased in all six and 
output increased in two, other miscellaneous store retailers and specialty food stores. The two 
industries with the greatest decrease in productivity were lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores 
(-8.1 percent) and other motor vehicle dealers (-8.1 percent).

Labor Productivity Rose in Majority of Industries in 2018

Productivity increased in 13 of the 16 3-digit NAICS industries studied in 2018. Five industries had 
productivity gains of at least 4.0 percent, with the highest in nonstore retailers (11.5 percent) which 
also had the largest increase in output (9.8 percent). Among the three industries with productivity 
declines, gasoline stations experienced the largest drop (-1.6 percent).

Productivity increased in 32 of the 49 4-digit NAICS industries studied in 2018. Output grew in 35 
industries while hours worked grew in 29 industries.

In wholesale trade, productivity rose 1.6 percent as output grew 2.3 percent and hours worked increased 
0.7 percent. 
      • Productivity grew 3.6 percent in durable goods wholesalers and fell 1.3 percent in nondurable 
        goods wholesalers. 
      • Productivity increased in 10 of the 19 4-digit wholesale trade industries while output rose in 
        11 industries and hours worked grew in 12. 
      • The most rapid increase in productivity occurred in machinery and supply merchant wholesalers 
        (9.4 percent) because output grew at five times the rate of hours worked. 

In retail trade, productivity increased by 3.2 percent as output grew faster (3.3 percent) than hours 
worked (0.2 percent).
      • Productivity increased in 20 of the 27 4-digit retail trade industries while output grew in 20 
        industries and hours worked rose in 14. 
      • The largest productivity increase occurred in book stores and news dealers (23.0 percent) as 
        hours worked declined at over four times the rate of output.
      • Electronic shopping and mail-order houses experienced the largest growth in output (10.6 
        percent) resulting in an 11.0 percent increase in productivity.

In food services and drinking places, productivity increased by 1.6 percent as growth in output (3.6 
percent) outpaced growth in hours worked (2.0 percent). 
      • Within this industry group, drinking places (alcoholic beverages) was the only 4-digit 
        industry with a productivity decline (-0.7 percent). 
      • All three 4-digit industries had increases in hours worked and output. 

Unit Labor Costs Decline in One Third of Industries in 2018

When productivity gains outpace hourly compensation, unit labor costs decline. 
      • Unit labor costs fell in 6 out of 16 3-digit industries in 2018. All unit labor cost declines 
        occurred in industries where productivity rose. 
      • Unit labor costs declined in 5 of 19 wholesale trade and 12 of 27 retail trade 4-digit 
        industries. Two of three food services and drinking places industries had increases in unit 
        labor costs.
      • Hourly compensation, defined as labor compensation per hour worked, rose in 41 of the 49 
        4-digit industries.

Labor Productivity Increases Over the Long Term in Most Industries

From 1987 to 2018, labor productivity increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in wholesale 
trade, 2.9 percent in retail trade, and 0.5 percent in food services and drinking places.
      • Among the 4-digit industries, productivity rose in 46 industries, declined in 2 industries, 
        and was unchanged in 1 industry from 1987 to 2018. 
      • Of the 46 4-digit industries with increasing productivity growth, 43 experienced rising output 
        while 27 had an increase in hours worked.
      • Median productivity among 4-digit  industries grew at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent.
      • Compared to the period 1987-2007, all three industry groups experienced a productivity slowdown 
        from 2007 to 2018. 
      • The number of 4-digit industries with increasing productivity dropped from 45 out of 49 during 
        the 1987-2007 period to 34 during the 2007-2018 period.

Long-term Trends in Unit Labor Costs Vary by Sector

From 1987 to 2018, unit labor costs increased at an average annual rate of 3.0 percent in food services 
and drinking places, the greatest change among the three industry groups. Unit labor costs increased by 
0.9 percent in wholesale trade and were unchanged in retail trade. 
      • Among the 4-digit industries, unit labor costs fell in 15 out of 49 industries from 1987 to 2018. 
        Unit labor costs declined in 2 out of 19 wholesale trade and in 13 out of 27 retail trade 
        industries. Unit labor costs increased in all food services and drinking places industries.
      • From 2007 to 2018, unit labor costs declined in 13 out of 49 industries. All industries with 
        declines in unit labor costs experienced increases in productivity.
      • During the 1987 to 2007 and 2007 to 2018 periods, electronics and appliance stores had the largest 
        unit labor cost declines and the largest productivity gains among the 3-digit industries.

Additional Information

The trade and food services and drinking places measures in this release incorporate benchmark data from 
the Census Bureau’s Service Annual Survey (November 2018), Annual Wholesale Trade Report (April 2019), 
Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey (May 2019), Annual Retail Trade Survey (April 2019), Annual Revision of 
the Monthly Retail and Food Services: Sales and Inventories (June 2019), and Nonemployer Statistics 
(June 2019). Accordingly, the labor productivity and output series for all industries have been revised 
for 2017 and earlier years. Additionally, the unit labor cost measures incorporate preliminary data from 
the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (June 2019). 

Access the productivity data dashboard at www.bls.gov/lpc/lpc_by_industry_dashboard.xlsx for
      • Additional industries and sectors
      • Detailed data series: indexes of productivity and related measures; rates of change; and levels 
        of industry employment, hours worked, nominal value of production, and labor compensation 
      • Additional years and long-term data

Subscribe to productivity news releases on the BLS website at 
https://subscriptions.bls.gov/accounts/USDOLBLS/subscriber/new.

Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. 
Voice phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339.

                                       Technical Note

Labor Productivity: Labor productivity describes the relationship between real output and the labor 
hours involved in its production. These measures show the changes from period to period in the 
amount of goods and services produced per hour worked. Although the labor productivity measures 
relate output in an industry to hours worked of all persons in that industry, they do not measure 
the specific contribution of labor to growth in output. Rather, they reflect the joint effects of 
many influences, including: changes in technology; capital investment; utilization of capacity, 
energy, and materials; the use of purchased services inputs, including contract employment services; 
the organization of production; the characteristics and effort of the workforce; and managerial 
skill.

Unit Labor Costs: Unit labor costs represent the cost of labor required to produce one unit of 
output. The unit labor cost indexes are computed by dividing an index of nominal industry labor 
compensation by an index of real industry output. Unit labor costs also describe the relationship 
between compensation per hour worked (hourly compensation) and real output per hour worked (labor 
productivity). When hourly compensation growth outpaces productivity, unit labor costs increase. 
Alternatively, when productivity growth exceeds hourly compensation, unit labor costs decrease.

Output: Industry output is measured as an annual-weighted index of the changes in the various 
products (in real terms) provided for sale outside the industry. Real industry output for data in
this release is derived by deflating nominal sales or values of production using price indexes. 
Industry output measures are constructed primarily using data from the economic censuses and annual 
surveys of the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce, together with information on price 
changes from BLS.  

Labor Hours: Labor hours are measured as annual hours worked by all employed persons in an industry. 
Data on industry employment and hours come primarily from the BLS Current Employment Statistics (CES) 
survey and Current Population Survey (CPS). CES data on the number of total and production worker 
jobs held by wage and salary workers in nonfarm establishments are supplemented with CPS data on 
self-employed and unpaid family workers to estimate industry employment. Hours worked estimates are 
derived using CES and CPS employment, CES data on the average weekly hours paid of production workers, 
CPS data on hours of nonproduction, self-employed, and unpaid family workers, and ratios of hours 
worked to hours paid based on data from the National Compensation Survey (NCS). For some industries, 
employment and hours data are supplemented or further disaggregated using data from the BLS Quarterly 
Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), the Census Bureau, or other sources. Hours worked are estimated 
separately for different types of workers and then are directly aggregated; no adjustments for labor 
composition are made.

Labor Compensation: Labor compensation, defined as payroll plus supplemental payments, is a measure 
of the cost to the employer of securing the services of labor. Payroll includes salaries, wages, 
commissions, dismissal pay, bonuses, vacation and sick leave pay, and compensation in kind. 
Supplemental payments include both legally required expenditures and payments for voluntary programs. 
The legally required portion consists primarily of federal old age and survivors’ insurance, 
unemployment compensation, and workers’ compensation. Payments for voluntary programs include all 
programs not specifically required by legislation, such as the employer portion of private health 
insurance and pension plans. Industry compensation measures are constructed primarily using data from 
the BLS QCEW and the economic censuses of the Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce.






Table 1. Recent labor productivity, unit labor costs, and related data
Industry 2012 NAICS code 2018
Employment
(thousands)
Percent change, 2017-2018
Labor productivity Unit labor costs Output Hours worked Labor compensation

Wholesale Trade

Wholesale trade

42

5,977.1 1.6 1.4 2.3 0.7 3.7

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods

423

3,214.8 3.6 0.2 5.1 1.4 5.3

Motor vehicles and parts

4231

352.5 4.3 -0.8 3.9 -0.4 3.1

Furniture and furnishings

4232

119.7 -7.6 5.2 -0.7 7.5 4.4

Lumber and construction supplies

4233

247.3 -1.8 5.4 -0.7 1.1 4.6

Commercial equipment

4234

692.4 5.4 1.2 4.5 -0.8 5.7

Metals and minerals

4235

137.1 3.2 2.6 7.1 3.7 9.9

Appliances and electric goods

4236

359.5 2.6 -0.4 5.1 2.4 4.6

Hardware and plumbing

4237

280.8 -1.8 4.5 2.3 4.1 6.8

Machinery and supplies

4238

704.0 9.4 -5.2 11.5 1.9 5.7

Miscellaneous durable goods

4239

321.5 2.4 0.1 3.6 1.2 3.7

Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods

424

2,206.4 -1.3 5.0 -1.0 0.3 4.0

Paper and paper products

4241

131.4 -4.1 3.3 -2.6 1.5 0.6

Druggists' goods

4242

237.3 -0.9 9.8 1.6 2.5 11.5

Apparel and piece goods

4243

155.7 0.4 2.6 -1.5 -1.8 1.1

Grocery and related products

4244

811.9 -1.9 3.6 -1.6 0.3 2.0

Farm product raw materials

4245

72.4 4.7 -2.7 -0.4 -4.9 -3.1

Chemicals

4246

150.8 -0.4 0.6 5.2 5.6 5.9

Petroleum

4247

103.9 -3.1 15.0 -4.3 -1.3 10.0

Alcoholic beverages

4248

201.3 0.3 1.0 3.4 3.1 4.4

Miscellaneous nondurable goods

4249

341.7 -1.6 4.1 -4.4 -2.8 -0.5

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

425

555.9 5.2 -7.6 2.6 -2.4 -5.2

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

4251

555.9 5.2 -7.6 2.6 -2.4 -5.2

Retail Trade

Retail trade

44-45

16,679.8 3.2 0.0 3.3 0.2 3.4

Motor vehicle and parts dealers

441

2,074.5 2.2 0.7 2.2 0.0 2.9

Automobile dealers

4411

1,332.4 2.6 -0.5 2.7 0.1 2.2

Other motor vehicle dealers

4412

169.6 -8.1 14.1 -3.2 5.4 10.4

Auto parts, accessories, and tire stores

4413

572.5 2.3 2.0 0.7 -1.6 2.7

Furniture and home furnishings stores

442

526.9 1.3 3.5 3.0 1.7 6.7

Furniture stores

4421

245.0 3.4 -0.7 6.5 3.0 5.7

Home furnishings stores

4422

281.9 -1.1 8.6 -0.8 0.3 7.8

Electronics and appliance stores

443

509.7 8.8 -3.9 7.0 -1.7 2.8

Electronics and appliance stores

4431

509.7 8.8 -3.9 7.0 -1.7 2.8

Building material and garden supply stores

444

1,336.4 -0.6 1.7 0.8 1.5 2.6

Building material and supplies dealers

4441

1,165.9 0.4 0.9 2.0 1.6 2.9

Lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores

4442

170.5 -8.1 7.9 -7.1 1.1 0.2

Food and beverage stores

445

3,166.4 3.1 -1.7 3.1 0.0 1.4

Grocery stores

4451

2,724.4 4.2 -2.3 3.1 -1.0 0.7

Specialty food stores

4452

262.7 -7.4 7.0 0.3 8.3 7.4

Beer, wine and liquor stores

4453

179.3 -0.6 -0.1 4.3 5.0 4.2

Health and personal care stores

446

1,114.2 2.4 -0.7 2.2 -0.2 1.5

Health and personal care stores

4461

1,114.2 2.4 -0.7 2.2 -0.2 1.5

Gasoline stations

447

941.8 -1.6 4.0 0.5 2.1 4.5

Gasoline stations

4471

941.8 -1.6 4.0 0.5 2.1 4.5

Clothing and clothing accessories stores

448

1,475.8 4.3 -3.2 5.6 1.2 2.2

Clothing stores

4481

1,095.4 4.2 -2.6 5.0 0.7 2.2

Shoe stores

4482

207.4 0.9 -3.4 4.6 3.7 1.1

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores

4483

173.0 9.1 -6.5 9.8 0.7 2.7

Sports, hobby, music instruments, book stores

451

632.9 4.1 3.2 -3.2 -7.0 -0.2

Sporting goods and musical instrument stores

4511

547.2 1.8 3.4 -2.9 -4.6 0.4

Book stores and news dealers

4512

85.7 23.0 1.9 -5.4 -23.1 -3.6

General merchandise stores

452

3,114.4 2.2 -0.3 3.0 0.9 2.8

Department stores

4521

1,163.9 0.7 0.2 -0.1 -0.8 0.1

Other general merchandise stores

4529

1,950.5 2.1 0.3 3.9 1.8 4.2

Miscellaneous store retailers

453

987.8 3.1 1.5 3.5 0.4 5.1

Florists

4531

77.4 15.5 -7.8 4.9 -9.2 -3.3

Office supplies, stationery and gift stores

4532

261.7 9.0 -9.0 5.9 -2.8 -3.6

Used merchandise stores

4533

222.8 8.3 3.6 0.0 -7.7 3.6

Other miscellaneous store retailers

4539

425.9 -4.8 8.5 3.3 8.4 12.1

Nonstore retailers

454

799.0 11.5 1.1 9.8 -1.5 11.0

Electronic shopping and mail-order houses

4541

495.6 11.0 3.4 10.6 -0.4 14.3

Vending machine operators

4542

47.1 10.3 1.3 6.1 -3.8 7.5

Direct selling establishments

4543

256.3 7.7 -3.0 4.3 -3.2 1.2

Food Services and Drinking Places

Food services and drinking places

722

12,163.4 1.6 2.0 3.6 2.0 5.7

Special food services

7223

864.2 0.7 -0.5 5.6 4.8 5.1

Drinking places, alcoholic beverages

7224

407.3 -0.7 2.2 2.5 3.2 4.8

Restaurants and other eating places

7225

10,891.9 1.7 2.2 3.5 1.7 5.8






Table 2. Long run labor productivity, unit labor costs, and related data
Industry 2012 NAICS code 2018
Employment
(thousands)
Average annual percent change, 1987-2018
Labor productivity Unit labor costs Output Hours worked Labor compensation

Wholesale Trade

Wholesale trade

42

5,977.1 2.7 0.9 3.1 0.3 4.0

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods

423

3,214.8 4.3 -0.4 4.5 0.2 4.0

Motor vehicles and parts

4231

352.5 3.4 0.3 3.2 -0.2 3.6

Furniture and furnishings

4232

119.7 1.6 2.2 1.7 0.1 3.9

Lumber and construction supplies

4233

247.3 0.9 1.7 1.6 0.7 3.4

Commercial equipment

4234

692.4 11.4 -6.6 11.6 0.2 4.3

Metals and minerals

4235

137.1 -0.4 3.8 0.0 0.3 3.8

Appliances and electric goods

4236

359.5 7.4 -2.9 7.2 -0.2 4.1

Hardware and plumbing

4237

280.8 1.5 2.0 2.4 0.9 4.5

Machinery and supplies

4238

704.0 1.9 1.9 2.0 0.1 4.0

Miscellaneous durable goods

4239

321.5 1.0 2.6 1.6 0.6 4.2

Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods

424

2,206.4 1.0 2.8 1.3 0.2 4.1

Paper and paper products

4241

131.4 0.8 2.4 0.3 -0.5 2.7

Druggists' goods

4242

237.3 2.3 3.5 3.5 1.2 7.2

Apparel and piece goods

4243

155.7 2.0 1.4 1.6 -0.4 3.0

Grocery and related products

4244

811.9 0.9 2.4 1.6 0.7 4.1

Farm product raw materials

4245

72.4 1.3 3.9 -0.5 -1.8 3.4

Chemicals

4246

150.8 0.2 3.3 0.7 0.6 4.1

Petroleum

4247

103.9 2.2 2.4 0.9 -1.3 3.3

Alcoholic beverages

4248

201.3 0.3 2.8 2.1 1.8 4.9

Miscellaneous nondurable goods

4249

341.7 0.0 3.3 -0.4 -0.4 2.9

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

425

555.9 1.6 0.6 3.3 1.7 3.9

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

4251

555.9 1.6 0.6 3.3 1.7 3.9

Retail Trade

Retail trade

44-45

16,679.8 2.9 0.0 3.3 0.5 3.3

Motor vehicle and parts dealers

441

2,074.5 2.2 0.6 3.0 0.8 3.6

Automobile dealers

4411

1,332.4 2.3 0.5 3.1 0.8 3.7

Other motor vehicle dealers

4412

169.6 2.5 1.0 3.7 1.2 4.8

Auto parts, accessories, and tire stores

4413

572.5 1.1 1.3 1.8 0.7 3.1

Furniture and home furnishings stores

442

526.9 3.8 -0.9 3.8 0.0 2.8

Furniture stores

4421

245.0 3.3 -0.8 3.4 0.0 2.6

Home furnishings stores

4422

281.9 4.4 -1.2 4.4 0.0 3.2

Electronics and appliance stores

443

509.7 10.7 -7.2 11.1 0.4 3.1

Electronics and appliance stores

4431

509.7 10.7 -7.2 11.1 0.4 3.1

Building material and garden supply stores

444

1,336.4 2.6 -0.1 3.3 0.7 3.2

Building material and supplies dealers

4441

1,165.9 2.5 0.0 3.3 0.8 3.4

Lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores

4442

170.5 3.0 -0.6 2.9 0.0 2.3

Food and beverage stores

445

3,166.4 0.7 2.1 0.7 0.0 2.8

Grocery stores

4451

2,724.4 0.6 2.3 0.6 0.1 3.0

Specialty food stores

4452

262.7 0.1 2.0 -0.3 -0.4 1.7

Beer, wine and liquor stores

4453

179.3 2.2 0.6 1.5 -0.6 2.2

Health and personal care stores

446

1,114.2 1.6 1.6 2.7 1.1 4.3

Health and personal care stores

4461

1,114.2 1.6 1.6 2.7 1.1 4.3

Gasoline stations

447

941.8 1.4 1.6 1.1 -0.2 2.7

Gasoline stations

4471

941.8 1.4 1.6 1.1 -0.2 2.7

Clothing and clothing accessories stores

448

1,475.8 3.9 -1.1 3.7 -0.2 2.5

Clothing stores

4481

1,095.4 4.3 -1.3 4.1 -0.1 2.7

Shoe stores

4482

207.4 2.9 -0.7 2.5 -0.3 1.8

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores

4483

173.0 3.3 -0.2 2.7 -0.6 2.5

Sports, hobby, music instruments, book stores

451

632.9 3.5 -0.6 3.7 0.2 3.0

Sporting goods and musical instrument stores

4511

547.2 4.0 -1.1 4.5 0.5 3.4

Book stores and news dealers

4512

85.7 1.9 1.0 0.3 -1.6 1.3

General merchandise stores

452

3,114.4 2.9 -0.7 4.2 1.3 3.5

Department stores

4521

1,163.9 0.6 0.9 0.5 -0.1 1.4

Other general merchandise stores

4529

1,950.5 4.9 -1.8 7.4 2.3 5.5

Miscellaneous store retailers

453

987.8 3.3 -0.8 3.1 -0.2 2.3

Florists

4531

77.4 3.3 -0.1 0.1 -3.1 0.0

Office supplies, stationery and gift stores

4532

261.7 5.6 -2.5 3.8 -1.7 1.2

Used merchandise stores

4533

222.8 4.7 -2.0 5.9 1.1 3.8

Other miscellaneous store retailers

4539

425.9 0.9 0.6 2.4 1.5 3.1

Nonstore retailers

454

799.0 8.1 -3.6 8.9 0.7 5.0

Electronic shopping and mail-order houses

4541

495.6 9.9 -4.6 14.1 3.8 8.8

Vending machine operators

4542

47.1 0.5 3.0 -1.9 -2.4 1.0

Direct selling establishments

4543

256.3 2.4 0.3 1.0 -1.3 1.4

Food Services and Drinking Places

Food services and drinking places

722

12,163.4 0.5 3.0 2.3 1.8 5.3

Special food services

7223

864.2 1.2 1.4 2.6 1.4 4.1

Drinking places, alcoholic beverages

7224

407.3 -0.3 3.1 0.0 0.3 3.0

Restaurants and other eating places

7225

10,891.9 0.5 3.2 2.4 1.9 5.6

Last Modified Date: July 26, 2019