Thursday, May 6, 2010

Productivity vs. Employment

Reuters details:

U.S. non-farm productivity growth slowed sharply in the first quarter, government data showed on Thursday, suggesting businesses will have to raise employment to boost output.

The Labor Department said non-farm productivity rose at a 3.6 percent annual rate, the smallest advance in a year, after expanding at a brisk 6.3 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast productivity, which measures the hourly output per worker, rising at a 2.5 percent rate in the January-March period.

Productivity expanded rapidly in the previous three quarters as businesses wrung more output from a small pool of labor. Despite the resumption of economic growth, firms have been reluctant to hire new workers, opting instead to increase working hours. With productivity slowing, they may need to start hiring workers to keep production up.

Looking at the chart, one can see that we have been squeezing out more, from less for 10+ years now. Productivity is a good thing, but it can be painful as the economy transitions to new technologies and requires new skill sets.

Source: BLS