Productivity and Costs by Industry: Wholesale Trade, Retail Trade, and Food Services and Drinking Places Industries - 2015

For release 10:00 a.m. (EDT) Wednesday, August 10, 2016	                                              USDL-16-1654

Technical Information:  (202) 691-5618  •  • 
Media Contact:          (202) 691-5902  •


Labor productivity rose 1.6 percent in wholesale trade, 3.0 percent in retail trade, and 1.8 percent in 
food services and drinking places in 2015, 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 
industry groups.

For wholesale trade in 2015 - productivity, output, and hours worked all increased at a slower rate than 
in 2014. In retail trade, the growth in output was more than double the growth in hours worked leading 
to a bigger productivity increase in 2015 than in 2014. Productivity growth in food services and drinking 
places in 2015 surpassed that of 2014 as increased output exceeded an increase in hours worked. 

Among the largest industries, productivity growth was greatest in building material and supplies dealers 
where output outpaced a slight increase in hours worked. Productivity fell the most in special food 
services where growth in hours worked outpaced an increase in output.

Trends in Labor Productivity in 2015

Productivity increased in 14 of the 16 3-digit NAICS industries studied in 2015. Four industries had 
productivity gains of at least 4.0 percent. Nonstore retailers, which includes electronic shopping and 
mail-order houses, had the largest increase in output (10.0 percent).

Productivity increased in 33 of the 49 4-digit NAICS industries studied in 2015. Output grew in 42 
industries while hours worked grew in 31 industries. 

In wholesale trade, productivity rose 1.6 percent as output grew 2.5 percent and hours worked increased 
0.9 percent. 
      * Productivity grew 0.3 percent in durable goods wholesalers and 3.3 percent in nondurable goods 
      * Productivity increased in 13 of the 19 4-digit wholesale trade industries while output rose in 16 
        industries and hours worked grew in 13. 
      * Productivity increased most rapidly in miscellaneous nondurable goods and in paper and paper 
        products as output increased and hours worked fell in both industries. 

In retail trade, productivity grew 3.0 percent as output rose 5.0 percent and hours worked rose 2.0 
      * Productivity increased in 19 of the 27 4-digit retail trade industries while output grew in 23 
        industries and hours worked rose in 15. 
      * The largest productivity increases were in florists and in book stores and news dealers as output 
        rose and hours worked declined in both industries. 
      * The electronic shopping and mail-order houses industry experienced the largest growth in output 
        (13.3 percent) and recorded a 6.0 percent increase in productivity.

In food services and drinking places, productivity rose 1.8 percent as output grew 5.1 percent and 
hours worked rose 3.2 percent. Output and hours worked rose in all three of the 4-digit industries in this 
industry group while productivity only increased in restaurants and other eating places.

Trends in Unit Labor Costs in 2015

      * When productivity gains outpace hourly compensation, unit labor costs facing employers 
        decline. Unit labor costs fell in 4 out of 16 3-digit industries in 2015. All unit labor cost
        declines occurred in industries where productivity rose. 
      * Unit labor costs declined in 6 of 19 wholesale trade and 13 of 27 retail trade 4-digit industries. 
        All three industries in food services and drinking places saw an increase in unit labor costs.
      * Hourly compensation, defined as labor compensation per hour worked, rose in 40 of the 49
        4-digit industries.

Long-Term Trends in Labor Productivity and Unit Labor Costs

From 1987 to 2015, labor productivity increased at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent in wholesale 
trade, 2.8 percent in retail trade, and 0.4 percent in food services and drinking places. 
      * Among the 4-digit industries, productivity rose in all but three industries from 1987 to 2015. 
        Median productivity growth among these industries was 2.1 percent per year.
      * Over the long term, productivity growth was associated with rising output in 42 out of 49 4-digit 
        industries while hours worked increased in 26 industries.
      * The growth in productivity from 1987 to 2007 far exceeded the growth in productivity from 
        2007 to 2015 in all three industry groups. Productivity increased in 45 out of 49 4-digit industries 
        from 1987 to 2007 compared to 28 industries from 2007 to 2015. 

From 1987 to 2015, unit labor costs increased at an average annual rate of 3.1 percent in food services 
and drinking places, the greatest change within the three industry groups. Unit labor costs increased by 
1.0 percent in wholesale trade and were unchanged in retail trade.
      * Among the 4-digit industries, unit labor costs fell in 14 out of 49 industries from 1987 to 2015. 
        Unit labor costs declined in 2 out of 19 wholesale trade and 12 out of 27 retail trade industries 
        while increasing in all food services and drinking places industries.
      * From 2007 to 2015, unit labor costs declined in 13 out of 49 industries. All industries with 
        declines in unit labor costs experienced increases in productivity.
      * Among the 3-digit industries, electronics and appliance stores had the largest unit labor cost 
        declines and the largest productivity gains during the 1987 to 2007 and 2007 to 2015 periods.

Additional Information

The trade and food services and drinking places measures in this release incorporate benchmark data 
from the Census Bureau’s Annual Wholesale Trade Report (February 2016), Monthly Wholesale Trade 
Survey (May 2016), Annual Retail Trade Survey (March 2016), Annual Revision of the Monthly Retail 
and Food Services: Sales and Inventories (May 2016), and Nonemployer Statistics (May 2016). Data 
have been benchmarked to the final results of the 2012 Economic Census. Accordingly, the labor 
productivity and output series for all industries have been revised for 2014 and earlier years. This news 
release also incorporates the annual benchmark revision of the BLS Current Employment Statistics 
(CES) survey published in February 2016. Additionally, the unit labor cost measures incorporate 
preliminary data from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (June 2016). 

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Last Modified Date: August 10, 2016