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Dispersion in Dispersion: Measuring Establishment-Level Differences in Productivity

Cindy Cunningham, Lucia Foster, Cheryl Grim, John Haltiwanger, Sabrina Wulff Pabilonia, Jay Stewart, and Zoltan Wolf


We describe new experimental productivity statistics, Dispersion Statistics on Productivity (DiSP), jointly developed and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Census Bureau. Productivity measures are critical for understanding economic performance. Official BLS productivity statistics, which are available for major sectors and detailed industries, provide information on the sources of aggregate productivity growth. A large body of research shows that within-industry variation in productivity provides important insights into productivity dynamics. This research reveals large and persistent productivity differences across businesses even within narrowly defined industries. These differences vary across industries and over time and are related to productivity-enhancing reallocation. Dispersion in productivity across businesses can provide information about the nature of competition and frictions within sectors, and about the sources of rising wage inequality across businesses. Because there were no official statistics providing this level of detail, BLS and the Census Bureau partnered to create measures of within-industry productivity dispersion. These measures complement official BLS aggregate and industry-level productivity growth statistics and thereby improve our understanding of the rich productivity dynamics in the U.S. economy. The underlying microdata for these measures are available for use by qualified researchers on approved projects in the Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) network. These new statistics confirm the presence of large productivity differences and we hope that these new data products will encourage further research into understanding these differences.