Why This Counts: Breaking Down Multifactor Productivity

Productivity measures tell us how much better we are at using available resources today compared to years past. All of us probably think about our own productivity levels every day, either in the workplace or at home. I find my own productivity is best in the morning, right after that first cup of coffee!

On a larger scale, here at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we produce two types of productivity measures: labor productivity and multifactor productivity, which we will call “MFP” for short. An earlier Why This Counts blog post focused on labor productivity and its impact on our lives. In this blog we will focus on why MFP measures matter to you.

Why do we need two types of productivity measures?

Labor productivity compares the amount of goods and services produced—what we call output—to the number of labor hours used to produce those goods and services.

Multifactor productivity differs from labor productivity by comparing output not just to hours worked, but to a combination of inputs.

What are these combined inputs?

For any given industry, the combined inputs include labor, capital, energy, materials, and purchased services. MFP tells us how much more output can be produced without increasing any of these inputs. The more efficiently an industry uses its combination of inputs to create output, the faster MFP will grow. MFP gives us a broader understanding of how we are all able to do more with less.

Does MFP tell us anything about the impact of technology?

It does. But we cannot untangle the impact of technology from other factors. MFP describes the growth in output that is not a result of using more of the inputs that we can measure. In other words, MFP represents what is left, the sources of growth that we cannot measure. These include not just technology improvements but also changes in factors such as management practices and the scale or organization of production. Put simply, MFP uses what we do know to learn more about what we want to know.

What can MFP tell us about labor productivity?

Labor productivity goes up when output grows faster than hours. But what exactly causes output to grow faster than hours? Labor productivity can grow because workers have more capital or other inputs or their job skills have improved. Labor productivity also may grow because technology has advanced, management practices have improved, or there have been returns to scale or other unmeasured influences on production. MFP statistics help us capture these influences and measure their impact on labor productivity growth.

How are MFP statistics used?

We can identify the sources of economic growth by comparing MFP with the inputs of production. This is true for individual industries and the nation as a whole.

For example, a lot has been written about the decline of manufacturing in the United States. MFP increased between 1992 and 2004 by an average of 2.0 percent per year. In contrast, MFP declined from 2004 through 2016 by an average of 0.3 percent per year. A recently published article uses detailed industry data to analyze sources of this productivity slowdown.

MFP is a valuable tool for exploring historical growth patterns, setting policies, and charting the potential for future economic growth. Businesses, industry analysts, and government policymakers use MFP statistics to make better decisions.

Where can I go to learn more?

Check out the most recent annual news release to see the data firsthand!

If you have a specific question, you might find it answered in our Frequently Asked Questions. Or you can always contact MFP staff through email or call (202) 691-5606.

Just like your own productivity at work and at home, the productivity growth of our nation can lead to improvements in the standard of living and the economic well-being of the country. Productivity is an important economic indicator that is often overlooked. We hope this blog has helped you to learn more about the value of the MFP!