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Economic News Release

Productivity and Costs by Industry: Wholesale Trade and Retail Trade Industries - 2023

For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, May 30, 2024                                        USDL-24-1066

Technical Information: (202) 691-5606  •  • 
Media Contact:         (202) 691-5902  •


Labor productivity declined 1.6 percent in wholesale trade and rose 1.6 percent in retail trade in 2023, 
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. In wholesale trade, productivity decreased for a 
second year in a row after growing annually since 2011. Wholesale trade output grew a modest 0.4 
percent with hours worked growing at a higher rate of 2.1 percent. Retail trade productivity rebounded 
in 2023 after having declined in 2022. Retail trade output rose 1.6 percent while hours declined 0.1 
percent. Unit labor costs, which reflect the total labor costs required to produce a unit of output, rose 
6.4 percent in wholesale trade and 0.5 percent in retail trade. 

The ten largest, four-digit NAICS industries by number of workers represent 57.8 percent of all workers 
in the wholesale and retail trade sector. Among these ten industries, productivity growth was greatest in 
clothing stores (+6.3 percent) after falling slightly in the previous year. Both gasoline stations and 
department stores posted significant productivity declines (-7.5 percent each). 

Labor Productivity Rose in Over Half of the Three-Digit NAICS Industries in 2023

Productivity increased in 9 of the 15 three-digit NAICS industries in 2023. (See table 1.) The industries 
with double-digit gains were nonstore retailers (+12.3 percent) and electronics and appliance stores 
(+10.2 percent). Furniture and home furnishings stores had a small productivity gain (+0.3 percent) as 
declines of over seven percent in both output and hours worked balanced out. Gasoline stations (-7.5 
percent) and general merchandise stores (-5.9 percent) had the largest productivity declines
In wholesale trade, productivity fell 1.6 percent as output growth (+0.4 percent) was slower than 
growth in hours worked (+2.1 percent).
• Productivity increased in only 7 of the 19 four-digit NAICS wholesale trade industries while 
output rose in 6 industries and hours worked grew in 14.
• Productivity fell 3.2 percent in durable goods wholesalers and fell 0.6 percent in nondurable 
goods wholesalers.
• The highest increase in productivity occurred in motor vehicle and parts merchant wholesalers 
(+7.1 percent) as output rose at a faster rate (+8.4 percent) than hours worked (+1.2 percent) 
leading to 3 years in a row of growth for all three measures.

In retail trade, productivity increased 1.6 percent as output increased (+1.6 percent) and hours worked 
declined slightly (-0.1 percent).
• Productivity increased in 14 of the 27 four-digit NAICS retail trade industries while output grew 
in 11 industries and hours worked rose in 13. 
• The largest productivity increase of 14.2 percent occurred in electronic shopping and mail-order 
houses as output increased 10.2 percent while hours fell 3.5 percent. This industry has shown 
positive productivity growth for nine consecutive years.
• In other general merchandise stores (the second largest retail employer), productivity dropped (-6.0
percent) for only the second time since the beginning of the series in 1987. Output in other 
general merchandise stores shifted down 1.4 percent, and hours climbed 4.9 percent after falling 
the year before.

Unit Labor Costs Rise in Most Trade Industries in 2023

When hourly compensation outpaces productivity gains, unit labor costs grow. 
• Unit labor costs rose in 10 of 15 three-digit NAICS wholesale and retail trade industries in 2023.
• The largest decrease in unit labor costs occurred in nonstore retailers (-8.6 percent) in which 
productivity grew (+12.3 percent) over four times the rate of hourly compensation (+2.7 
• Among four-digit NAICS arunit labor costs rose in 16 of 19 wholesale trade industries, 
and in 20 of 27 retail trade industries.
• Hourly compensation rose in 38 of the 46 four-digit NAICS industries.

2019 to 2023 Trends

Output increased in 26 of the 46 four-digit trade industries from 2019 to 2023. (See table 3.) 
Note that the annual percent changes for periods of more than 1 year are annualized average rates of 
change over the entire period, or a compound annual growth rate. The two industries with the highest 
increases during that period were electronic shopping and mail-order houses (+15.2 percent per year) 
and druggists' goods merchant wholesalers (+7.1 percent). Vending machine operators experienced the 
steepest annual declines in output during this period (-6.4 percent).

Hours worked increased in 23 of the 46 four-digit trade industries from 2019 to 2023. The two industries 
with the largest decreases in hours worked over the 4 years were jewelry, luggage, and leather goods 
stores (-7.3 percent per year) and direct selling establishments (-6.0 percent). The industry with the 
largest increase in hours worked was lawn and garden equipment and supplies stores (+2.5 percent).

Long-term Labor Productivity Increases in All but One Industry

From 1987 to 2023, labor productivity increased 2.4 percent per year in wholesale trade and 3.1 
percent per year in retail trade. (See table 2.)
• Among the 46 four-digit NAICS industries, productivity rose in all but one industry--metal and 
mineral merchant wholesalers. 
• Of the 45 four-digit NAICS industries with increasing productivity growth, output rose in 38. 
Hours worked increased in 19.
• Median productivity among four-digit NAICS industries grew at an annual rate of 1.9 percent.
• Among subperiods, productivity growth in the wholesale nondurable and retail trade industries 
was slower from 2007 to 2019 than during the periods preceding and following. The slowest 
productivity for wholesale durable goods occurred over the 2019-23 period. The productivity 
growth in retail trade was fastest in the 2019-23 period but was highest for both wholesale goods 
industries in the 1987-2007 period.
• Productivity grew in 43 of the 46 four-digit NAICS industries during the 1987-2007 period. The 
number of industries with productivity growth fell to 34 from 2007 to 2019 and then remained at 
34 from 2019 to 2023.

Long-term Trends in Unit Labor Costs Vary by Sector

From 1987 to 2023, unit labor costs increased 1.5 percent per year in wholesale trade and 0.2 percent 
per year in retail trade. (See table 2.)
• Among the 46 four-digit NAICS industries, unit labor costs rose in 17 of 19 wholesale trade 
industries and 14 of 27 retail trade industries from 1987 to 2023. 
• Across sub-periods, unit labor costs rose in 29 industries in 1987-2007, 34 industries in 2007-19, 
and 38 industries in 2019-23. 
• In all three periods, unit labor costs remained positive for wholesale nondurable goods. After 
decreasing unit labor costs from 1987-2007, wholesale durable goods unit labor costs increased 
for both the 2007-19 and 2019-23 periods. In retail trade, unit labor costs were slightly negative 
from 1987 to 2007, were unchanged from 2007 to 2019, and rose 2.0 percent per year from 2019 
to 2023.

Additional Information

The trade measures in this release incorporate benchmark data from the Census Bureau’s Annual 
Wholesale Trade Report (January 2024), Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey (February 2024), Annual 
Retail Trade Survey (January 2024), Monthly Retail Trade Survey (February 2024), and Nonemployer 
Statistics (March 2024) with the National Income and Product Accounts (March 2024) from the Bureau 
of Economic Analysis. Accordingly, the labor productivity and output series for all industries have been 
revised for 2022 and earlier years. Additionally, the unit labor cost measures incorporate preliminary 
data from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (March 2024). 

Measures of hours worked for all industries reflect a change in methods and are revised historically. 
Estimates of hours worked by self-employed workers and unpaid family workers reflect a method 
change that makes industry-level estimates consistent with the newly composited quarterly major sector 
estimates that remove variability during seasonal adjustment and reduce volatility in these workers. A 
more detailed discussion of the changes is available in the Monthly Labor Review at

More information about the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) can be found at

Access the productivity data dashboard at
industries.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

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Last Modified Date: May 30, 2024