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Economic News Release
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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. (ET) Thursday, July 30, 2020                                            USDL-20-1465

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 AND 
                                 RETAIL TRADE INDUSTRIES -- 2019


Labor productivity rose 5.3 percent in retail trade and 0.4 percent in wholesale trade in 2019, 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 fell in retail trade.

Annual productivity growth for retail trade in 2019 was the highest since 1999. In 2019, retail trade 
output increased at an accelerating rate while hours worked fell at a faster rate than in 2018. In 
wholesale trade, productivity and output increased at a slower rate than in 2018 and hours worked 
increased at a slightly faster rate. 
	
Among the six 4-digit industries with the highest productivity growth, five reported growth in output 
while one industry showed growth in hours worked. Productivity growth was greatest in electronic 
shopping and mail-order houses (+13.2 percent) where growth in output far surpassed growth in hours 
worked.

Of the six 4-digit industries with the largest declines in productivity, hours worked increased in five and 
output increased in one, vending machine operators. The two industries with the greatest decreases in 
productivity were appliance and electric goods merchant wholesalers (-6.2 percent) and used 
merchandise stores (-6.8 percent).

Labor Productivity Rose in Majority of Industries in 2019

Productivity increased in 13 of the 15 3-digit NAICS industries studied in 2019. Eight industries had 
productivity gains of at least 4.0 percent, with the highest in nonstore retailers (+14.0 percent) which 
also had the largest increase in output (+15.6 percent). Of the two industries with productivity declines, 
building material and garden supply stores experienced the largest drop (-2.3 percent).

Productivity increased in 30 of the 46 4-digit NAICS industries studied in 2019. Output grew in 31 
industries while hours worked grew in 24 industries. (See table 1). 

In wholesale trade, productivity rose 0.4 percent as output grew 1.0 percent and hours worked increased 
0.6 percent. 
•	Productivity fell 1.1 percent in durable goods wholesalers and rose 1.3 percent in nondurable 
goods wholesalers. 
•	Productivity increased in 8 of the 19 4-digit wholesale trade industries while output rose in 11 
industries and hours worked grew in 13. 
•	The most rapid increase in productivity occurred in petroleum merchant wholesalers (+8.4 
percent) because output grew 8.1 percent while hours worked declined 0.3 percent. 

In retail trade, productivity increased by 5.3 percent as output grew 3.7 percent and hours worked fell 
1.5 percent.
•	Productivity increased in 22 of the 27 4-digit retail trade industries while output grew in 20 
industries and hours worked rose in 11. 
•	The largest productivity increase occurred in electronic shopping and mail-order houses (+13.2 
percent) as output increased at over five times the rate of hours worked.
•	Specialty food stores hours worked declined 11.7 percent while output declined 1.6 percent, 
resulting in a productivity increase of 11.5 percent.

Unit Labor Costs Decline in One Third of Industries in 2019

When productivity gains outpace hourly compensation, unit labor costs decline. 
•	Unit labor costs fell in 5 out of 15 3-digit wholesale and retail trade industries in 2019. All unit 
labor cost declines occurred in industries where productivity rose.
•	Unit labor costs declined in 4 of 19 4-digit wholesale trade industries. In retail trade, 9 of 27 4-
digit industries had declines in unit labor costs, and two 4-digit industries had no change.
•	Hourly compensation, defined as labor compensation per hour worked, rose in 37 of the 46 
4-digit industries.

Long-term Labor Productivity Increases for Most Industries 

From 1987 to 2019, labor productivity increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in wholesale 
trade and 2.9 percent in retail trade. (See table 2.)
•	Among the 4-digit industries, productivity rose from 1987 to 2019 in 43 industries, was 
unchanged in 2 industries, and declined in 1 industry, metal and mineral merchant wholesalers. 
•	Of the 43 4-digit industries with increasing productivity growth, 38 experienced rising output 
while 22 had an increase in hours worked.
•	Median productivity among 4-digit industries grew at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent.
•	The 2007 to 2019 productivity growth in durable wholesale, nondurable wholesale, and retail 
trade industries was slower than during the 1987-2007 period.
•	The number of 4-digit industries with increasing productivity dropped from 43 out of 46 during 
the 1987-2007 period to 33 during the 2007-2019 period.

Long-term Trends in Unit Labor Costs Vary by Sector

From 1987 to 2019, unit labor costs declined at an average annual rate of 0.3 percent in wholesale 
durable goods, increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in wholesale nondurable goods, and 
were unchanged in retail trade. (See table 2.)
•	Among the 4-digit industries, unit labor costs fell in 15 out of 46 industries from 1987 to 2019. 
Unit labor costs declined in 2 out of 19 wholesale trade and in 13 out of 27 retail trade industries. 
•	From 2007 to 2019, unit labor costs declined in 14 out of 46 industries. All industries with 
declines in unit labor costs experienced increases in productivity.
•	During the 1987 to 2007 and 2007 to 2019 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 measures in this release incorporate benchmark data from the Census Bureau’s Annual 
Wholesale Trade Report (February 2020), Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey (May 2020), Annual Retail 
Trade Survey (February 2020), Annual Revision of the Monthly Retail and Food Services: Sales and 
Inventories (April 2020), and Nonemployer Statistics (May 2020). Accordingly, the labor productivity 
and output series for all industries have been revised for 2018 and earlier years. Additionally, the unit 
labor cost measures incorporate preliminary data from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and 
Wages (June 2020). 

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 2017 NAICS code 2019
Employment
(thousands)
Percent change, 2018-2019
Labor productivity Unit labor costs Output Hours
worked
Labor compen-
sation
Hourly compen-
sation

Wholesale Trade

Wholesale trade

42

6,028.4 0.4 2.5 1.0 0.6 3.5 2.9

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods

423

3,262.2 -1.1 3.6 0.3 1.4 4.0 2.5

Motor vehicles and parts

4231

364.3 -1.8 2.9 1.7 3.5 4.6 1.1

Furniture and furnishings

4232

119.5 4.9 -0.3 3.8 -1.1 3.5 4.6

Lumber and construction supplies

4233

254.5 -0.4 2.6 3.2 3.6 5.9 2.2

Commercial equipment

4234

693.3 4.0 -0.9 5.6 1.5 4.6 3.0

Metals and minerals

4235

139.3 -0.7 1.3 0.1 0.8 1.4 0.7

Appliances and electric goods

4236

365.3 -6.2 8.1 -6.0 0.2 1.6 1.4

Hardware and plumbing

4237

285.9 -3.4 5.0 -0.1 3.3 4.9 1.5

Machinery and supplies

4238

721.5 -2.8 5.8 -1.0 1.8 4.7 2.8

Miscellaneous durable goods

4239

318.6 1.2 3.7 -1.7 -2.9 1.9 4.9

Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods

424

2,230.2 1.3 1.5 1.7 0.4 3.2 2.8

Paper and paper products

4241

132.2 -2.5 8.5 -6.7 -4.3 1.2 5.8

Druggists' goods

4242

243.5 0.9 3.7 1.2 0.3 4.9 4.6

Apparel and piece goods

4243

156.4 -4.0 4.1 -3.2 0.9 0.8 -0.1

Grocery and related products

4244

812.4 1.5 0.2 2.0 0.5 2.2 1.7

Farm product raw materials

4245

72.2 -5.4 -6.5 -0.8 4.9 -7.2 -11.6

Chemicals

4246

153.3 -1.7 3.1 0.4 2.2 3.6 1.4

Petroleum

4247

105.9 8.4 -0.8 8.1 -0.3 7.2 7.5

Alcoholic beverages

4248

207.9 2.7 1.6 4.3 1.6 6.0 4.3

Miscellaneous nondurable goods

4249

346.4 -3.6 7.6 -3.9 -0.3 3.4 3.7

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

425

536.0 5.6 0.2 1.4 -4.0 1.6 5.8

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

4251

536.0 5.6 0.2 1.4 -4.0 1.6 5.8

Retail Trade

Retail trade

44-45

16,410.5 5.3 -1.1 3.7 -1.5 2.5 4.1

Motor vehicle and parts dealers

441

2,093.4 1.4 1.2 3.0 1.6 4.2 2.6

Automobile dealers

4411

1,331.2 2.4 1.3 2.9 0.4 4.2 3.8

Other motor vehicle dealers

4412

177.6 0.5 -2.0 6.6 6.2 4.5 -1.6

Auto parts, accessories, and tire stores

4413

584.6 -1.4 2.5 1.7 3.1 4.2 1.1

Furniture and home furnishings stores

442

498.7 4.9 -3.7 -0.3 -5.0 -4.0 1.0

Furniture stores

4421

231.8 1.9 0.4 -2.2 -4.0 -1.8 2.3

Home furnishings stores

4422

266.9 8.3 -8.1 1.8 -6.0 -6.4 -0.4

Electronics and appliance stores

443

490.4 11.7 -6.2 3.3 -7.5 -3.0 4.8

Electronics and appliance stores

4431

490.4 11.7 -6.2 3.3 -7.5 -3.0 4.8

Building material and garden supply stores

444

1,329.3 -2.3 2.8 -0.2 2.2 2.6 0.4

Building material and supplies dealers

4441

1,163.3 -3.0 1.9 0.3 3.4 2.2 -1.1

Lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores

4442

166.0 2.2 9.0 -3.4 -5.5 5.3 11.4

Food and beverage stores

445

3,146.7 1.8 1.5 1.7 -0.1 3.2 3.3

Grocery stores

4451

2,722.8 1.1 2.1 1.9 0.7 4.0 3.3

Specialty food stores

4452

242.7 11.5 -4.1 -1.6 -11.7 -5.6 6.9

Beer, wine and liquor stores

4453

181.2 -2.9 2.5 1.4 4.4 3.9 -0.5

Health and personal care stores

446

1,103.3 4.5 -1.9 3.2 -1.3 1.2 2.5

Health and personal care stores

4461

1,103.3 4.5 -1.9 3.2 -1.3 1.2 2.5

Gasoline stations

447

949.6 2.0 2.8 1.8 -0.2 4.7 4.9

Gasoline stations

4471

949.6 2.0 2.8 1.8 -0.2 4.7 4.9

Clothing and clothing accessories stores

448

1,398.1 5.5 0.6 1.3 -4.0 1.9 6.2

Clothing stores

4481

1,029.2 6.8 0.0 0.8 -5.6 0.8 6.8

Shoe stores

4482

203.8 0.9 2.9 2.7 1.8 5.6 3.7

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores

4483

165.1 5.7 1.0 2.5 -3.0 3.5 6.8

Sports, hobby, music instruments, book stores

451

602.7 6.2 0.9 -0.2 -6.0 0.7 7.1

Sporting goods and musical instrument stores

4511

517.0 6.7 0.6 -0.1 -6.4 0.5 7.4

Book stores and news dealers

4512

85.7 2.2 2.7 -0.8 -2.9 1.9 4.9

General merchandise stores

452

3,055.2 7.0 -0.9 1.2 -5.4 0.3 6.1

Department stores

4522

1,083.1 5.1 1.1 -3.6 -8.3 -2.6 6.2

Other general merchandise stores

4523

1,972.1 6.7 -0.7 2.4 -4.0 1.8 6.0

Miscellaneous store retailers

453

981.5 1.9 0.8 2.1 0.2 3.0 2.7

Florists

4531

73.8 6.0 -7.3 5.8 -0.2 -1.9 -1.7

Office supplies, stationery and gift stores

4532

257.4 5.8 0.0 1.4 -4.1 1.4 5.7

Used merchandise stores

4533

225.2 -6.8 5.3 -1.9 5.2 3.3 -1.9

Other miscellaneous store retailers

4539

425.1 2.8 1.2 3.1 0.3 4.3 4.0

Nonstore retailers

454

761.6 14.0 -7.2 15.6 1.5 7.3 5.8

Electronic shopping and mail-order houses

4541

483.3 13.2 -5.4 16.9 3.2 10.5 7.0

Vending machine operators

4542

49.7 -3.8 8.7 2.4 6.4 11.3 4.5

Direct selling establishments

4543

228.6 10.9 -10.8 7.2 -3.4 -4.3 -1.0






Table 2. Long run labor productivity, unit labor costs, and related data
Industry 2017 NAICS code 2019
Employment
(thousands)
Average annual percent change, 1987-2019
Labor productivity Unit labor costs Output Hours
worked
Labor compen-
sation
Hourly compen-
sation

Wholesale Trade

Wholesale trade

42

6,028.4 2.7 1.0 3.0 0.3 4.0 3.7

Merchant wholesalers, durable goods

423

3,262.2 4.1 -0.3 4.4 0.2 4.0 3.8

Motor vehicles and parts

4231

364.3 3.2 0.4 3.2 0.0 3.6 3.7

Furniture and furnishings

4232

119.5 1.7 2.1 1.8 0.1 3.9 3.9

Lumber and construction supplies

4233

254.5 1.0 1.6 1.8 0.8 3.4 2.7

Commercial equipment

4234

693.3 11.3 -6.5 11.5 0.2 4.3 4.1

Metals and minerals

4235

139.3 -0.4 3.8 -0.1 0.3 3.7 3.4

Appliances and electric goods

4236

365.3 6.9 -2.5 6.7 -0.2 4.0 4.2

Hardware and plumbing

4237

285.9 1.4 2.1 2.4 1.0 4.5 3.5

Machinery and supplies

4238

721.5 1.6 2.2 1.7 0.1 4.0 3.9

Miscellaneous durable goods

4239

318.6 1.1 2.6 1.5 0.5 4.1 3.7

Merchant wholesalers, nondurable goods

424

2,230.2 1.1 2.7 1.3 0.2 4.1 3.8

Paper and paper products

4241

132.2 0.6 2.6 0.0 -0.6 2.7 3.3

Druggists' goods

4242

243.5 2.2 3.5 3.5 1.2 7.1 5.9

Apparel and piece goods

4243

156.4 1.8 1.5 1.4 -0.4 3.0 3.3

Grocery and related products

4244

812.4 1.0 2.2 1.7 0.7 4.0 3.3

Farm product raw materials

4245

72.2 1.1 3.6 -0.5 -1.6 3.0 4.7

Chemicals

4246

153.3 0.0 3.4 0.7 0.6 4.1 3.4

Petroleum

4247

105.9 2.5 2.2 1.2 -1.3 3.4 4.7

Alcoholic beverages

4248

207.9 0.3 2.8 2.1 1.8 4.9 3.1

Miscellaneous nondurable goods

4249

346.4 0.0 3.3 -0.4 -0.4 2.9 3.3

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

425

536.0 1.5 0.8 3.0 1.5 3.8 2.3

Electronic markets and agents and brokers

4251

536.0 1.5 0.8 3.0 1.5 3.8 2.3

Retail Trade

Retail trade

44-45

16,410.5 2.9 0.0 3.3 0.4 3.3 2.9

Motor vehicle and parts dealers

441

2,093.4 2.2 0.6 3.0 0.8 3.6 2.8

Automobile dealers

4411

1,331.2 2.3 0.6 3.1 0.8 3.7 2.9

Other motor vehicle dealers

4412

177.6 2.5 0.8 3.9 1.4 4.7 3.3

Auto parts, accessories, and tire stores

4413

584.6 1.0 1.4 1.7 0.7 3.2 2.4

Furniture and home furnishings stores

442

498.7 3.8 -1.0 3.6 -0.2 2.6 2.8

Furniture stores

4421

231.8 3.2 -0.6 3.0 -0.2 2.4 2.6

Home furnishings stores

4422

266.9 4.6 -1.5 4.4 -0.2 2.9 3.0

Electronics and appliance stores

443

490.4 10.7 -7.2 10.9 0.2 2.9 2.7

Electronics and appliance stores

4431

490.4 10.7 -7.2 10.9 0.2 2.9 2.7

Building material and garden supply stores

444

1,329.3 2.5 0.0 3.2 0.7 3.2 2.5

Building material and supplies dealers

4441

1,163.3 2.4 0.1 3.2 0.9 3.3 2.4

Lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores

4442

166.0 3.2 -0.5 3.0 -0.3 2.4 2.7

Food and beverage stores

445

3,146.7 0.7 2.1 0.7 0.0 2.8 2.8

Grocery stores

4451

2,722.8 0.5 2.4 0.6 0.1 3.0 2.9

Specialty food stores

4452

242.7 0.5 1.8 -0.3 -0.8 1.5 2.3

Beer, wine and liquor stores

4453

181.2 2.0 0.7 1.5 -0.5 2.2 2.7

Health and personal care stores

446

1,103.3 1.8 1.4 2.8 1.0 4.2 3.2

Health and personal care stores

4461

1,103.3 1.8 1.4 2.8 1.0 4.2 3.2

Gasoline stations

447

949.6 1.4 1.6 1.1 -0.2 2.8 3.0

Gasoline stations

4471

949.6 1.4 1.6 1.1 -0.2 2.8 3.0

Clothing and clothing accessories stores

448

1,398.1 4.0 -1.0 3.6 -0.4 2.5 2.9

Clothing stores

4481

1,029.2 4.3 -1.2 4.0 -0.3 2.7 3.0

Shoe stores

4482

203.8 2.9 -0.7 2.6 -0.3 1.9 2.2

Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores

4483

165.1 3.3 -0.1 2.6 -0.7 2.5 3.2

Sports, hobby, music instruments, book stores

451

602.7 3.6 -0.6 3.6 0.0 3.0 3.0

Sporting goods and musical instrument stores

4511

517.0 4.1 -1.1 4.4 0.3 3.3 3.0

Book stores and news dealers

4512

85.7 1.8 1.2 0.2 -1.6 1.3 3.0

General merchandise stores

452

3,055.2 3.0 -0.7 4.1 1.1 3.4 2.3

Department stores

4522

1,083.1 0.7 0.9 0.3 -0.4 1.3 1.7

Other general merchandise stores

4523

1,972.1 4.9 -1.7 7.2 2.1 5.3 3.1

Miscellaneous store retailers

453

981.5 3.3 -0.8 3.1 -0.2 2.3 2.5

Florists

4531

73.8 3.1 0.0 0.0 -3.1 0.0 3.1

Office supplies, stationery and gift stores

4532

257.4 5.6 -2.4 3.7 -1.8 1.2 3.1

Used merchandise stores

4533

225.2 4.4 -1.8 5.7 1.2 3.8 2.5

Other miscellaneous store retailers

4539

425.1 1.0 0.6 2.5 1.5 3.1 1.6

Nonstore retailers

454

761.6 8.4 -3.8 9.2 0.8 5.1 4.3

Electronic shopping and mail-order houses

4541

483.3 10.1 -4.7 14.2 3.7 8.9 4.9

Vending machine operators

4542

49.7 0.3 3.1 -1.8 -2.1 1.3 3.5

Direct selling establishments

4543

228.6 2.7 -0.1 1.3 -1.4 1.2 2.6

Last Modified Date: July 30, 2020