Transportation Economic Trends

Transportation Productivity:

Labor Productivity

Productivity measures answer important questions about the performance of the transportation sector. This page discusses labor productivity. Data and discussion about total factor productivity are also available.

2021 Year-in-Review
  • Air, at 46.4 percent, followed by transit (12.1 percent), rail (10.3 percent), and pipeline (10.2 percent) transportation experienced an increase in labor productivity in 2021 while truck, warehousing, and water transportation experienced a decline of 0.4 percent, 3.7 percent, and 13.6 percent, respectively.
  • Air transportation labor productivity increased by 46.4 percent from 2020 to 2021 after declining by 53.4 percent from 2019 to 2020. Air transportation’s labor productivity fell from 2019 to 2020 due to COVID-19, which greatly reduced air travel, and relief funding, which prevented employee furloughs (for more information on COVID-19 relief funding, see While air transportation’s labor productivity grew from 2020 to 2021, it remained below the pre-pandemic 2019 level.
  • Rail transportation labor productivity rose steadily from 2016 to 2021 due to labor hours declining more than gross output. The 2021 labor productivity index level for rail transportation was the highest level on record (with records beginning in 1990).
  • Water transportation's labor productivity decreased for two consecutive years (19.2 percent from 2019 to 2020, and 13.6 percent from 2020 to 2021). From 2019 to 2020, both the real output and labor hours decreased by 30.6 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively. From 202o to 2021, labor hours increased more at 20.7 percent than real output (4.4 percent), which likewise caused labor productivity to fall.
  • Warehousing's labor productivity peaked in 2012 and has been decreasing for the last seven years due to the faster increase in labor hours than real gross output. The 2021 labor productivity index level for warehousing was at the 2005-2006 level.

Labor Productivity
Labor productivity measures the output per unit of labor input. When an industry has multiple products or services, the outputs are weighted by value. Labor productivity shows industries' responses to regulations and policies, changes in labor costs, and competitive pressures. For example, gains in air productivity from 2001 to 2008 resulted from legacy carriers adopting aggressive labor-saving initiatives and from large output gains among low-cost carriers.


Recommended citation
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Economic Trends, available at

Bureau of Transportation Statistics
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the preeminent source of statistics on commercial aviation, multimodal freight activity, and transportation economics, and provides context to decision makers and the public for understanding statistics on transportation.