The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor today reported revised productivity data--as measured by output per hour of all persons--for the second quarter of 2001. Of these five numbers, the one most often discussed in press and television reports is the rate of increase in productivity in the nonfarm business sector.
Current Key Economic Indicatorsas of May 5, 2013
On a seasonally adjusted basis, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers decreased 0.2 percent in March after increasing 0.7 percent in February. The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in March after rising 0.2 percent in February.
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 165,000 in April, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 7.5 percent. Employment increased in professional and business services, food services and drinking places, retail trade, and health care.
Real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2013 (that is, from the fourth quarter to the first quarter), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 0.4 percent.
To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the asset purchase program ends and the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that this exceptionally low range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent...
"The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor today reported revised productivity data--as measured by output per hour of all persons--for the second quarter of 2001. The seasonally adjusted annual rates of productivity change in the second quarter were:
- 2.2 percent in the business sector;
- 2.1 percent in the non-farm business sector.
In manufacturing, productivity changes in the first quarter were:
Bureau of Labor Statistics Press Release, September 5, 2001.
- 1.1 percent in all manufacturing;
- 1.7 percent in durable goods manufacturing; and
- 0.0 percent in non-durable goods manufacturing."
Of these five numbers, the one most often discussed in press and television reports is the rate of increase in productivity in the non-farm business sector.
Importance of Productivity Changes for Economic Growth
Our capacity to produce goods and services is determined by how much labor we have, how many hours workers work, the workers' skills and intensity of work, the amount of capital workers have with which to work, and changes in technology. Over time, real GDP in the US has increased for all of these reasons. We have a larger population with a larger percentage working. In the last 10 years, the average worker has been working longer hours. The workers have significantly larger amounts of capital, and new ways of producing and organizing production have been put in place.
The productivity measures capture the effects of the increased capital, the increased experience and education of workers, and the new technology. If productivity increases faster than population growth, real GDP per person can increase and we can all enjoy higher standards of living.
The increase in productivity growth during the second quarter of 2001 was higher than productivity growth during the first quarter.
The latest productivity data indicate that businesses are adapting to the slowing growth in total output that has occurred over the past few quarters by adjusting the hours worked. Employment has been relatively stable and thus businesses must be adjusting the hours worked by each employee. In the second quarter, output in the non-farm business sector actually decreased (-0.5 %) and hours of employees decreased at a slightly faster pace (-2.6%). Thus, the rise in productivity was 2.1 % (-0.5% + 2.6% = 2.1%). See the latest Unemployment case for a description of recent changes in employment.
The increases in productivity for all of 2000 (annual average of 3 percent) exceed increases in 1998 (2.6 percent) and 1999 (2.3 percent). The longer run trend in productivity has allowed real GDP per capita to increase. It also means that wages for workers can increase and can do so without excessive upward pressures on prices. Hourly compensation (wages) rose by 6 percent during 2000. Unit labor costs are the costs of labor per unit of output. Thus, the increase in unit labor costs is the percentage increase in hourly compensation minus the percentage increase in productivity - that is, 6.0% minus 3.1% = 2.9%.
The increase in unit labor costs provides evidence that there are still some minor inflationary pressures. However the recent slowing growth in real GDP and increase in the unemployment rate to 4.5% provides additional evidence that inflationary pressures are unlikely to be serious. In fact, many economists are still concerned about the possibilities of a continued slowing of growth in the economy in the near future or an actual recession.
Historical Data Trends
From 1950 to 1973, productivity grew at an average annual rate of 2.8 percent. But from 1973 to 1995, growth in productivity slowed to an increase at an annual rate of 1.4 percent. From 1996 to 2000, productivity again increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent.
The slowdown, beginning in the 1970s, and the increases in the late 1990s are not fully understood. The analysis of the Council of Economic Advisers is that about .47 percent of the recent increase can be explained by the effects of more computers and software being used in many businesses. Dramatic changes in the production of computers themselves to help explain about another .23 percent. The quality of labor (increased education and more experienced workers) explains about .05 percent.
The rest is not understood. It may be due to cyclical pressures (that is, fewer workers were being added to employment rolls, but those who were working were producing more) and perhaps to the effects of lower business costs as a result of the Internet.
For the future, education and experience will not likely continue to make significant advances. The computer contribution to increases in productivity will probably drop. A consensus forecast is for a declining growth rate in productivity and therefore in real GDP growth rates.
|1950 -73||1973 - 95||1995 - 00||Future|
|Growth in hours worked||1.6%||1.7%||1.7%||1.2%|
Definitions of Productivity
It is a challenge to understand all of the different productivity measures. Changes in productivity are calculated for the business sector, the non-farm business sector, manufacturing (including calculations for durable goods and non-durable goods manufacturing), and even non-financial corporations.
The broadest measure is productivity in the business sector, which comprises 77 percent of GDP. The business sector excludes government and nonprofit organizations, employees in private households, and the rental value of owner-occupied housing. The non-farm business sector excludes all of those activities plus farming and accounts for about 76 percent of GDP. Productivity in the non-farm business sector is the most commonly used measure in studies of productivity. Agriculture is removed because output and therefore productivity are significantly influenced by weather changes.
Non-financial corporate output measures productivity for the non-farm business sector excluding such activities as banks, securities brokers, insurance carriers, and unincorporated businesses. It accounts for 53 percent of the value of GDP. Manufacturing accounts for about 17 percent of business employment. The manufacturing of durable goods includes machinery, computer equipment, electronics, appliances, automobiles and trucks, lumber, furniture, and stone, glass, and cement products (11 percent of employment). Manufacturing of non-durable goods (6 percent of employment) includes food, apparel, paper products, publishing, chemicals, and petroleum products. The manufacturing data are actually calculated from different sources than the overall statistics and can differ slightly from the other data.
How the Data Are Calculated
Productivity data represent the amount of goods and services (in real terms) produced per hour of labor. They do not identify the separate contributions of labor, capital, and technology. Changes in productivity include the effects of all (except hours of work) possible influences on output:- technology, ability, skills, and effort of labor, capacity utilization, managerial skills, and the amount of capital.
Other periodic announcements report multi-factor productivity indexes, which do measure the separate effects of hours of labor, education levels and experience of labor, amount of capital, and the effects of technology change.
The Impact of Revisions to Productivity Data
The "preliminary" productivity figures are announced slightly more than one month after the end of a quarter. The "revised" productivity figures (the current announcement) appear after one more month. The "revised" productivity figures are most often changed from the previously announced "preliminary" figures. (This current revision lowered the previously announced 2.5 percent increase to 2.1 percent.)
Periodically, additional revisions are made to the productivity data. This last summer revisions were made in the 1999, 2000, and the first quarter 2001 figures. The effects of those revisions were to lower the previously estimated increases in productivity. For example, the rate of increase for 1999 was lowered from 2.6 to 2.3 percent and, in 2000, lowered from an increase of 4.3 percent to an increase of 3.0 percent.
These revisions have received a great deal of press attention, primarily focused on the overestimation of productivity growth. Despite the downward revisions in the last two years' productivity growth, productivity was still increasing; the gains were just smaller. Increases in productivity over the past few years have allowed companies to generate more revenues, leading to higher profits and wages without inflationary pressures. Therefore, although the data may have overstated the increases in productivity, the effects of increases in productivity on the economy were real.
A Classroom Activity on Productivity
Assessing the Effects of Capital, Labor, Technology, and Learning on Output
Economic growth is dependent upon changes in the levels of capital, the labor force, and technology in a country. Increased productivity and technological change will allow for increases in output and increases in wages without affecting the price level. The relationships among factors affecting productivity and output are illustrated in the following activity.
First, divide the classroom into four equal groups and distribute construction paper to each group. Explain that each group is a country and that the paper represents their natural resources. Tell two people in group one that they will have one minute to take their construction paper and tear it into circles the size of a fist. Their goal is to make the most circles in a minute. This may require some quality control to ensure that legitimate circles are being produced. When one minute has elapsed, collect and tally the number of circles. Show examples to the class and ask what should be done to increase the production of circles or the quality of circles.
These circles will probably be very rough around the edges and only approximate a circle. The teacher must make sure that the students are tearing fairly regular shaped circles in order for later sections of this activity to apply. Students may suggest that circle production can be increased by having more students participate, using scissors, or discussing the methods of tearing out circles. Suggestions on how to increase the quality of the circles may include using a compass or an object to trace as well as using scissors.
In the second round, distribute two scissors to two people in group 2. Explain that the two students will be given one minute to cut out as many circles (the size of a fist) as they can. When one minute has elapsed, collect and tally the number of circles. Discuss how the output changed with the addition of capital to this economy. Compare examples of the circles made with scissors to those made by tearing and determine if the addition of capital has increased the quality of the product. You may also discuss how you might count the number of rather crude circles in the first round, compared to the larger number of better circles in the second round.
With the addition of capital, more circles should have been produced, each more closely approximating a true circle. When more circles are produced in a given time period with the same amount of labor, this constitutes an increase in productivity of labor. The quality of the circles will have also increased when scissors were used, because now the circles have a more regular shape and do not have ragged edges. Each of the more regular circles perhaps should be counted as more valuable than the rather crude circles. The challenge is to determine how much more valuable. In measuring GDP, we use the market value of the products.
In the third round, have four people in group 3 cut out circles with the same number (2) of scissors. Explain that they will have one minute to cut out as many circles as possible. When one minute has elapsed, collect and tally the number of circles. Discuss how the gross output changed with a larger labor force. Then divide the number of circles produced by four to determine the productivity.
When the labor force is doubled, more circles should be produced. They may be the same quality as the ones produced with the original labor force. Real output per capita will have increased as the number of circles produced divided by the size of the class will have increased. Determine if the productivity per worker increased. It should be approximately the same or may have decreased. One would expect a decrease in productivity of labor, because of diminishing marginal returns when the amount of capital is held constant. Note that individual workers in the labor force may have different productivity levels and this in turn may have affected the outcome.
Finally, ask the entire class to discuss what other aspects of circle production might be altered in order to increase the number of circles produced or the quality of the circles. Then select four people (group 4) and have them use whatever resources available to produce their circles. (They may use a compass, trace a coke can, or use other forms of approximating a circle.) When one minute has elapsed, collect and tally the number of circles. Discuss how the output changed with the addition of learning and innovation, and perhaps more capital. Compare examples of the circles made with the new technology and the additional learning, to those made by an increase in labor, to those made with scissors, to those made by tearing and determine if this additional information has increased the quality of the product.
By discussing how to approach the task of making circles, the group may come up with more efficient methods of production. For example, one student might trace circles on paper while another student starts cutting circles out. This is specialization of tasks. The main effect here may be on the quality of the product. Output may fall and productivity may fall, but overall the circles should be of higher quality. Enhanced technology and capital, with labor at a constant, should increase productivity. Ideally, in this scenario, output and quality are the highest. Therefore, this should represent the highest levels of productivity.
If these groups were four separate countries (one with only labor, one with labor and capital, one with a larger labor force and capital, and one with enhanced technology), which would have the highest productivity rates? Compute productivity and real GDP per capita (the size of the class) for each scenario.
[In order from lowest productivity to highest productivity are: labor (group 1), larger labor force and capital (group 3), labor and capital (group 2), and enhanced technology (group 4). Productivity is measured as output per worker in a given time segment and is the total output divided the number of workers. The real GDP per capita will likely be ranked group 1, group 2, group 3, and group 4.]
Compare the circles from the economy with only labor and the economy with labor and capital. Which of the two produced the higher quality circles? Which circles do you value more? How might the quality of some circles be reflected in prices?
[The circles from the economy with labor and capital should be of higher quality. However, productivity may have fallen when the students devoted a little extra time to circle production. Since fewer more accurate circles were produced, these circles may be of higher value and that would be reflected in a higher value for this group. This higher value should be considered in measuring production.]
When the labor force increased, did each of the workers have the same productivity rates? What do you think are the effects of higher education on productivity per worker? As an employer, which workers would you hire?
[Each of the four students probably produced a different amount of circles. Higher education levels will increase the skills and therefore productivity of workers. Workers with higher levels of productivity will experience a higher demand for their services in the market, and therefore be able to earn a higher wage rate.]
What were the effects of a classroom discussion on circle production? How is this like trade between countries? Will trade increase productivity in individual countries?
[The classroom discussion allowed for a general collaboration of ideas, and the best methods of production were chosen from a number of suggestions. Trade between countries allows for a dispersion of ideas between different areas. When developing countries import products they acquire knowledge of product design and technology and may learn techniques that may increase production and efficiency of their own products.]
You may have students answer these additional questions verbally or on this worksheet.
Assume that hours worked increase by 1 percent and that GDP increased by 5 percent. Also assume that the GDP implicit price deflator increased by 2 percent. Calculate the increase in productivity.
[Real output increased by 3 percent (5% - 2% = 3%). Productivity is output per hour worked. Thus the increase in productivity is 3 percent minus the change in the number of hours (one percent). Productivity increases by 2 percent.]
Suppose the labor force increases by 1 percent and the hours per worker increase by 1 percent. Increases in the amount of capital increases output per worker by 2 percent. Prices increase by 3 percent. Increases in education and technology increases output per hour by 1 percent. What are the rates of increase in real GDP and GDP?
[Labor inputs increase by 2 percent. Output per hour increases by the contribution of capital, education, and technology - 3 percent. Real GDP will thus increase by 5 percent. Given an inflation rate of 3 percent, nominal GDP will increase by 8 percent.]
An increase in government spending on research and development may enhance abilities to produce goods and in effect increase productivity. Is such spending wise?
[Obviously such spending has benefits. Production should increase and we will be better off as a result of the increased spending. However, economic analysis would tell us that there are opportunity costs. If other productivity enhancing activities are given up as a result of the increase in government spending, it is less clear that such spending is wise.]
- See activities and questions in "What's Happening in the New Economy?", an Economics Minute lesson posted March 4, 2000.
Original Bureau of Labor Statistics Press Release
Sources of Additional Activities
Advanced Placement Economics: Macroeconomics
(Council for Economic Education)
Unit 1: The Basic Economic Problem
Lesson 9. Getting More or Using Less
Lesson 17. The Circular Flow of Economic Activity
Capstone: The Nation's High School Economics Course (Council for Economic Education)
Unit 1: 9. The Circular Flow of Economic Activity
Unit 3: 6. Productivity
Unit 6: 2. Making a Macro Model: Consumers
Unit 6: 3. Making a Macro Model: Investment Handbook of Economic Lessons (California Council on Economic Education)
Lesson 20: Plotting the Ups and Downs of the US Economy
Lesson 21: The Fluctuating Economy: A Look at Business Cycles
Lesson 23: Economic Growth
Be the first to review this lesson!Add a Review