Productivity and Costs by Industry: Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade, and Food Services and Drinking Places Industries, 2014

For release 10:00 a.m. (EDT) Thursday, August 6, 2015                                                 USDL-15-1514

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Labor productivity - defined as output per hour - rose 2.6 percent in wholesale trade, 1.9 percent in 
retail trade, and 0.3 percent in food services and drinking places in 2014, 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, also rose in all three sectors. 

Productivity in wholesale trade rose faster in 2014 than in 2013. Both output and hours increased at a 
higher rate than the previous year. In retail trade, output rose at a slightly slower rate and hours 
increased after falling the previous year, leading to a smaller productivity rise than in 2013. The 
productivity increase in food services and drinking places in 2014 resulted from an increase in output 
that exceeded that of hours. 

Labor Productivity Trends in 2014

Productivity increased in 30 of the 49 detailed 4-digit NAICS industries studied in 2014. Both output 
and hours grew in 42 industries. Unit labor costs fell in 18 industries in 2014.

In wholesale trade, productivity rose 2.6 percent as output grew 4.3 percent and hours increased 1.7 
percent. Productivity grew 2.4 percent in durable goods wholesalers and 3.1 percent in nondurable 
goods wholesalers. Productivity increased in 16 of the 19 detailed wholesale trade industries, while 
output rose in 17 industries and hours grew in 18. Productivity increased most rapidly in apparel and 
piece goods and druggists’ goods, as output rose substantially in each. Unit labor costs declined in eight 

In retail trade, productivity grew 1.9 percent, as output rose 3.9 percent and hours rose 2.0 percent. 
Productivity increased in 13 of the 27 detailed retail trade industries, as output grew in 22 industries and 
hours rose in 21. The largest productivity increases were in beer, wine, and liquor stores and electronics 
and appliance stores. Output increased strongly in both of these industries. Unit labor costs fell in nine 

In food services and drinking places, productivity rose 0.3 percent, as output grew 3.7 percent and 
hours rose 3.3 percent. Output and hours rose in all three of the detailed industries in this sector, while 
only restaurants and other eating places recorded an increase in productivity. Unit labor costs rose in two 
of the industries.

Productivity increased in 11 of the 16 3-digit NAICS industries studied in 2014. Productivity gains of at 
least 5 percent occurred in 2 industries where output increased strongly: electronics and appliance stores 
and health and personal care stores.

Unit labor costs fell in 5 out of 16 3-digit NAICS industries in 2014. All unit labor cost declines 
occurred in industries where productivity rose. Conversely, each of the industries where productivity fell 
also recorded an increase in unit labor costs. Labor compensation rose in 2014 in all 16 industries. 

Of the 12 largest detailed wholesale trade, retail trade, and food services and drinking places industries, 
ranked by employment size, output rose in 10 industries and hours rose in 8. Productivity growth was 
greatest in health and personal care stores, where output grew and hours declined. Productivity fell the 
most in special food services, where strong growth in hours outpaced the increase in output.

Labor Productivity Trends in Selected Time Periods

From 1987 to 2014, productivity increased at an average annual rate of 3.1 percent in wholesale trade, 
2.8 percent in retail trade, and 0.4 percent in food services and drinking places. Unit labor costs rose in 
wholesale trade and in food services and drinking places, and were unchanged in retail trade from 1987 
to 2014.

Among the detailed 4-digit NAICS industries, productivity rose in approximately 89 percent of 
wholesale trade industries, 100 percent of retail trade industries, and 67 percent of food services and 
drinking places industries from 1987 to 2014. Median productivity growth among these industries was 
2.2 percent per year. Productivity growth over the long term was associated with rising output in many 
industries, while hours increased in slightly more than half.

Productivity also increased in about two-thirds of the detailed industries studied between 2007 and 2014, 
despite the fact that the period encompassed a recession. However, only 55 percent of the industries saw 
increases in output, while 37 percent experienced growth in hours.

Additional Information

The trade and food services and drinking places measures in this release incorporate preliminary data 
from the Census Bureau’s Annual Wholesale Trade Report (February 2015), Monthly Wholesale Trade 
Survey (May 2015), Annual Retail Trade Survey (March 2015), and the Annual Revision of the 
Monthly Retail and Food Services: Sales and Inventories (May 2015), as well as data from the Census 
Bureau’s Nonemployer Statistics (May 2015). The labor productivity and output series for all industries 
have been revised for 2013 and earlier years as a result. This news release also incorporates the annual 
benchmark revision of the BLS Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey published in February 
2015. In addition, the unit labor cost measures incorporate preliminary data from the BLS Quarterly 
Census of Employment and Wages (June 2015). All of the measures for 2014 in this release are 
preliminary and subject to revision. 

For the first time, the industries included in this news release are classified according to the 2012 
NAICS. Indexes have been rebased from 2002=100 to 2007=100 starting with this release. While the 
rates of change reported by BLS in this release are rounded to one decimal place, all percent changes are 
calculated using index numbers rounded to three decimal places.

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.

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Last Modified Date: August 06, 2015