The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor today reported new productivity data--as measured by output per hour of all persons--for the first quarter of 2002. The seasonally-adjusted annual rates of productivity growth in the first quarter were:First Quarter
Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of Productivity Growth Business sector 8.5 percent Nonfarm business sector 8.6 percent
In manufacturing, preliminary productivity changes in the fourth quarter were:First Quarter
Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of Productivity Growth in Manufacturing Manufacturing sector 9.7 Durable Goods 13.3 Non-durable Goods 5.1
Bureau of Labor Statistics Press Release, May 7, 2002.
The original press release is available at: www.bls.gov/news.release/prod2.nr0.htm
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.
Productivity growth most often slows or disappears in recessions and indeed the growth in productivity throughout 2001 (1.9%) was significantly slower than in 2000 (3.3%). The rather rapid increase in the fourth quarter of 2001 and the even faster rise in the first quarter of 2002 are evidence that the economy is likely coming out of the recession.
The increase in productivity was the largest since the second quarter of 1983. The increase is caused by a rapid increase in output and a significant decline in hours worked.
In reaction to the fourth quarter figures, caution was expressed by Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Banking Committee. The Federal Reserve has expressed confidence in recent and likely future increases in productivity. However, Greenspan said that the productivity increase was "not only remarkably robust, but very unlikely." It may be that the latest productivity announcement overstates what is actually happening in the economy.
Productivity growth during the first quarter of2002, 8.6 percent, was greater than the revised increase in the fourth quarter of 2001(5.5%) and the annual increase for 2001 (1.9%). This is a preliminary estimate of productivity growth for the first quarter 2002.
The latest productivity data indicate that businesses are continuing to adapt to the slowdown in growth in total output that occurred throughout 2001 by adjusting employment and the hours worked. However, now it appears that output is beginning to rise once again. Employment decreased during 2001 and businesses reduced the hours worked by each employee as well. (See the latest Unemployment case for a description of recent changes in employment.)
In the first quarter, output in the nonfarm business sector increased (6.5 %) while hours of employees decreased (-1.9%). Increases in output alone will increase productivity. The fact that 1.9% fewer hours were used to produce that output also increases the measured productivity. Thus, the change in productivity was 6.5% + 1.9% = 8.4%. (The numbers do not exactly add up to the reported number, 8.6%, due to errors in rounding).
In spite of the significant increase in the most recent quarter, the changes in productivity during 2001 were less than the changes in the previous three years. The increase in productivity for all of 2001 (1.9 percent) is less than increases in 2000 (annual average of 3.3 percent), 1998 (2.6 percent) and 1999 (2.3 percent). This is the lowest rate of productivity growth since 1995, but still higher than the average rate of change in productivity over the previous twenty years. The longer run trend in productivity over the past decade 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 rose at an annual rate of 2.7 percent during the quarter. 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. Or 2.7% minus 8.6% = -5.9%. %. (The numbers do not exactly add up to the reported number, -5.4%, again due to errors in rounding).
The decrease in unit labor costs provides evidence that inflationary pressures do not exist. The recent relatively high and increasing unemployment rates provide additional evidence that inflationary pressures are not a concern.
Productivity Growth in the Future
The Federal Reserve Board has been very optimistic about the long-run prospects for productivity growth. On December 11, 2001, the Federal Reserve Board lowered the target federal funds rate to its lowest level in 40 years. In their announcement, they made the following statement concerning productivity.
``Although the necessary reallocation of resources to enhance security may restrain advances in productivity for a time, the long-term prospects for productivity growth and the economy remain favorable and should become evident once the unusual forces restraining demand abate.''
The Federal Reserve recognizes that the terrorist activities on September 11, 2001 prompted increased security measures for businesses across the country. That increased spending on security means that it will take more hours of labor to produce the same output. Thus the expectation is that productivity will fall as a result of that change. However, the Federal Reserve remains optimistic that productivity growth will continue in the long run after the economy has adjusted to the needed increased security expenses.
On January 30, 2002, the Federal Reserve met again and included the following statement in the announcement at the end of their meeting.
"With the forces restraining the economy starting to diminish, and with the long-term prospects for productivity growth remaining favorable and monetary policy accommodative, the outlook for economic recovery has become more promising."
The Federal Reserve believes that spending in the economy is increasing from its lower levels in 2001. The forces that were restraining demand in November appear to be subsiding which will make the economic recovery easier. The long-term prospects for productivity growth therefore remain favorable.
In the both the March 19 and May 7 statements following the Federal Open Market Committee meetings, the FOMC does not mention the productivity growth. See the latest Federal Reserve case.
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 increased at an annual rate of 2.5 percent, almost equal to the 1050 to 1973 rate.
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 increases can be explained by the effects of more computers and software being used in many businesses. Dramatic changes in the production of computers themselves helps 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 business use 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%|
(The numbers do not add in all cases due to rounding and the inclusion of slightly different measures in the productivity and hours calculations. However, increases in the growth in hours worked and increases in productivity will cause similar increases in the growth rates of real GDP.)
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 nonfarm 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 nonfarm business sector excludes all of those activities plus farming and accounts for about 76 percent of GDP. Productivity in the nonfarm business sector is the most commonly used measure in studies of productivity. The reason agriculture is removed is because output and therefore productivity are significantly influenced by weather changes.
Non-financial corporate output measures productivity for the nonfarm 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 includes 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.
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 U.S. has increased for all of these reasons. We have a larger population with a larger percentage working. In the last ten 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 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 appear after one more month. The preliminary estimate of productivity growth for the fourth quarter was 3.5% and it was revised substantially to 5.5% due to upward revisions on the output estimates. Originally output was estimated to have declined during the first quarter, however the revisions show that it actually increased, causing the productivity estimates to increase.
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 2000 lowered from an increase of 4.3 percent to an increase of 3.3 percent.
These revisions have received a great deal of press attention - primarily focused on the overestimation of productivity growth. Despite the downward revisions in last two years' productivity growth, productivity was still increasing; the gains were just smaller. Increases in productivity over the past few years has 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?