For release 10:00 a.m. (EDT) Thursday, August 30, 2012 USDL-12-1762
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PRODUCTIVITY AND COSTS BY INDUSTRY: WHOLESALE TRADE, RETAIL TRADE, AND
FOOD SERVICES AND DRINKING PLACES INDUSTRIES, 2011
Labor productivity - defined as output per hour - rose 1.9 percent in wholesale trade, 2.2 percent in
retail trade and was unchanged in food services and drinking places in 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics reported today. Productivity growth was lower in all three sectors in 2011 compared to 2010.
Output increased in all three sectors, and grew more rapidly in retail trade and in food services and
drinking places in 2011 than in 2010. Notably, hours also rose in all three sectors in 2011, after falling in
wholesale trade and in food services and drinking places in 2010.
Unit labor costs, which reflect the total labor costs required to produce a unit of output, rose in
wholesale trade and in food services and drinking places in 2011, but fell in retail trade. (See table 1.) In
2010, unit labor costs declined in wholesale trade and in retail trade and grew in food services and
Productivity increased in 33 of the 50 detailed industries in 2011, compared to 41 industries in 2010.
Output grew in 39 industries and hours increased in 33. In the previous year, output rose in 42 industries,
while hours grew in 19. Unit labor costs fell in 27 industries in 2011, compared to 31 in 2010.
In wholesale trade, labor productivity rose 1.9 percent as output grew 4.8 percent and hours increased
2.9 percent. Productivity grew 6.3 percent in durable goods, but fell 1.1 percent in nondurable goods.
Output per hour increased in all but one of the durable goods industries but in only one of the
nondurable goods industries. Output grew in 13 of the 19 wholesale trade industries and hours rose in
15. Productivity increased most rapidly in machinery and supplies wholesalers, where output rose more
than in any other wholesale trade industry. Unit labor costs declined in 9 industries.
In retail trade, labor productivity grew 2.2 percent - faster than in the other sectors presented here - as
output increased 3.7 percent and hours rose 1.5 percent. Output per hour increased in 21 of the 27
detailed retail trade industries in 2011. Output grew in 23 industries and hours rose in 16. The largest
productivity increases were in florists and vending machine operators, both of which recorded rapid
declines in hours. Unit labor costs fell in 17 industries.
In food services and drinking places, labor productivity recorded no change, as output and hours both
grew 3.4 percent. Output per hour rose in three of the four detailed industries in this sector, but fell in
limited-service eating places, where hours grew at a rate nearly double that of output. Output increased
in three industries and hours grew in two. Unit labor costs rose in three of the four industries.
Over the longer term (1987 to 2011), productivity growth in the wholesale trade, retail trade, and food
services and drinking places sectors advanced more rapidly than in 2011. From 1987 to 2011, output per
hour increased 3.1 percent in wholesale trade, 2.8 percent in retail trade, and 0.6 percent in food services
and drinking places. Between 1987 and 2011, unit labor costs rose in wholesale trade and in food
services and drinking places, but were unchanged in retail trade. (See table 2.)
From 1987 to 2011, productivity rose in 45 of the 50 detailed industries, more than in 2011. Unit labor
costs fell in 16 of the detailed industries over the period.
Year-to-year movements in industry productivity may be erratic, particularly in smaller industries. The
annual measures based on sample data may differ from measures generated by a census of
establishments in the industry. Annual changes in an industry’s output and use of labor may reflect
cyclical changes in the economy as well as long-term trends. As a result, long-term productivity trends
tend to be more reliable indicators of industry performance than year-to-year changes.
Industry labor productivity measures are updated as data become available. Productivity measures for
industries in other sectors can be accessed on the BLS Labor Productivity and Costs web site at