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Economic News Release
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Productivity and Costs by Industry: Wholesale Trade and Retail Trade Industries - 2019

For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, July 30, 2020                                            USDL-20-1465

Technical Information: (202) 691-5606  •  productivity@bls.gov  •  www.bls.gov/lpc 
Media Contact:         (202) 691-5902  •  PressOffice@bls.gov


                       PRODUCTIVITY AND COSTS BY INDUSTRY: WHOLESALE TRADE AND 
                                 RETAIL TRADE INDUSTRIES -- 2019


Labor productivity rose 5.3 percent in retail trade and 0.4 percent in wholesale trade in 2019, 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, rose in wholesale trade and fell in retail trade.

Annual productivity growth for retail trade in 2019 was the highest since 1999. In 2019, retail trade 
output increased at an accelerating rate while hours worked fell at a faster rate than in 2018. In 
wholesale trade, productivity and output increased at a slower rate than in 2018 and hours worked 
increased at a slightly faster rate. 
	
Among the six 4-digit industries with the highest productivity growth, five reported growth in output 
while one industry showed growth in hours worked. Productivity growth was greatest in electronic 
shopping and mail-order houses (+13.2 percent) where growth in output far surpassed growth in hours 
worked.

Of the six 4-digit industries with the largest declines in productivity, hours worked increased in five and 
output increased in one, vending machine operators. The two industries with the greatest decreases in 
productivity were appliance and electric goods merchant wholesalers (-6.2 percent) and used 
merchandise stores (-6.8 percent).

Labor Productivity Rose in Majority of Industries in 2019

Productivity increased in 13 of the 15 3-digit NAICS industries studied in 2019. Eight industries had 
productivity gains of at least 4.0 percent, with the highest in nonstore retailers (+14.0 percent) which 
also had the largest increase in output (+15.6 percent). Of the two industries with productivity declines, 
building material and garden supply stores experienced the largest drop (-2.3 percent).

Productivity increased in 30 of the 46 4-digit NAICS industries studied in 2019. Output grew in 31 
industries while hours worked grew in 24 industries. (See table 1). 

In wholesale trade, productivity rose 0.4 percent as output grew 1.0 percent and hours worked increased 
0.6 percent. 
•	Productivity fell 1.1 percent in durable goods wholesalers and rose 1.3 percent in nondurable 
goods wholesalers. 
•	Productivity increased in 8 of the 19 4-digit wholesale trade industries while output rose in 11 
industries and hours worked grew in 13. 
•	The most rapid increase in productivity occurred in petroleum merchant wholesalers (+8.4 
percent) because output grew 8.1 percent while hours worked declined 0.3 percent. 

In retail trade, productivity increased by 5.3 percent as output grew 3.7 percent and hours worked fell 
1.5 percent.
•	Productivity increased in 22 of the 27 4-digit retail trade industries while output grew in 20 
industries and hours worked rose in 11. 
•	The largest productivity increase occurred in electronic shopping and mail-order houses (+13.2 
percent) as output increased at over five times the rate of hours worked.
•	Specialty food stores hours worked declined 11.7 percent while output declined 1.6 percent, 
resulting in a productivity increase of 11.5 percent.

Unit Labor Costs Decline in One Third of Industries in 2019

When productivity gains outpace hourly compensation, unit labor costs decline. 
•	Unit labor costs fell in 5 out of 15 3-digit wholesale and retail trade industries in 2019. All unit 
labor cost declines occurred in industries where productivity rose.
•	Unit labor costs declined in 4 of 19 4-digit wholesale trade industries. In retail trade, 9 of 27 4-
digit industries had declines in unit labor costs, and two 4-digit industries had no change.
•	Hourly compensation, defined as labor compensation per hour worked, rose in 37 of the 46 
4-digit industries.

Long-term Labor Productivity Increases for Most Industries 

From 1987 to 2019, labor productivity increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in wholesale 
trade and 2.9 percent in retail trade. (See table 2.)
•	Among the 4-digit industries, productivity rose from 1987 to 2019 in 43 industries, was 
unchanged in 2 industries, and declined in 1 industry, metal and mineral merchant wholesalers. 
•	Of the 43 4-digit industries with increasing productivity growth, 38 experienced rising output 
while 22 had an increase in hours worked.
•	Median productivity among 4-digit industries grew at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent.
•	The 2007 to 2019 productivity growth in durable wholesale, nondurable wholesale, and retail 
trade industries was slower than during the 1987-2007 period.
•	The number of 4-digit industries with increasing productivity dropped from 43 out of 46 during 
the 1987-2007 period to 33 during the 2007-2019 period.

Long-term Trends in Unit Labor Costs Vary by Sector

From 1987 to 2019, unit labor costs declined at an average annual rate of 0.3 percent in wholesale 
durable goods, increased at an average annual rate of 2.7 percent in wholesale nondurable goods, and 
were unchanged in retail trade. (See table 2.)
•	Among the 4-digit industries, unit labor costs fell in 15 out of 46 industries from 1987 to 2019. 
Unit labor costs declined in 2 out of 19 wholesale trade and in 13 out of 27 retail trade industries. 
•	From 2007 to 2019, unit labor costs declined in 14 out of 46 industries. All industries with 
declines in unit labor costs experienced increases in productivity.
•	During the 1987 to 2007 and 2007 to 2019 periods, electronics and appliance stores had the 
largest unit labor cost declines and the largest productivity gains among the 3-digit industries.

Additional Information

The trade measures in this release incorporate benchmark data from the Census Bureau’s Annual 
Wholesale Trade Report (February 2020), Monthly Wholesale Trade Survey (May 2020), Annual Retail 
Trade Survey (February 2020), Annual Revision of the Monthly Retail and Food Services: Sales and 
Inventories (April 2020), and Nonemployer Statistics (May 2020). Accordingly, the labor productivity 
and output series for all industries have been revised for 2018 and earlier years. Additionally, the unit 
labor cost measures incorporate preliminary data from the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and 
Wages (June 2020). 

Access the productivity data dashboard at www.bls.gov/lpc/lpc_by_industry_dashboard.xlsx for
•	Additional industries and sectors
•	Detailed data series: indexes of productivity and related measures; rates of change; and levels of 
industry employment, hours worked, nominal value of production, and labor compensation 
•	Additional years and long-term data

Subscribe to productivity news releases on the BLS website at 
https://subscriptions.bls.gov/accounts/USDOLBLS/subscriber/new.

Information in this release will be made available to sensory impaired individuals upon request. Voice 
phone: (202) 691-5200; Federal Relay Service: (800) 877-8339.

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Last Modified Date: July 30, 2020