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Productivity Dispersion and Structural Change in Retail Trade

Dominic Smith, G. Jacob Blackwood, Michael D. Giandrea, Cheryl Grim, Jay Stewart, and Zoltan Wolf


Official Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates of productivity growth in the retail trade sector indicate that productivity has grown at a moderate rate of 2.8 percent per year between 1987 and 2017, and that there is considerable variation in growth rates across 4-digit industries. But the official data, which can be thought of as weighted averages of establishment-level productivity, tell us nothing about what goes on within industries. Given the transformation of retail trade over the past three decades, this information could provide more insight. In this paper, we present productivity dispersion statistics for industries in the retail trade sector. These statistics are similar to the BLS-Census Bureau Dispersion Statistics on Productivity (DiSP) for manufacturing industries and complement the official BLS industry-level productivity statistics. We find that from 1987 through 2017, productivity dispersion increased slightly on average. Surprisingly, the tails of the retail productivity distribution have similar dispersion as we find in the middle. Firm dispersion has increased more than establishment dispersion.