Tag Archives: Productivity

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!

Why This Counts: Productivity and Its Impact on Our Lives

How can we achieve a higher standard of living? One way might simply be to work more, trading some free time for more income. Although working more will increase how much we can produce and purchase, are we better off? Not necessarily. Only if we increase our efficiency—by producing more goods and services without increasing the number of hours we work—can we be sure to increase our standard of living.

That’s why BLS produces labor productivity statistics every quarter that tell us how well we are improving our economic efficiency. These measures compare the amount of goods and services we produce with the number of hours we work. How can we can improve labor productivity? There are many ways. We can use more and newer machinery and equipment. We can develop new technologies that streamline production. We can improve organization and communication in the workplace and manage people more effectively. Or, we can increase worker skills through education or job training.

So, how much has U.S. labor productivity improved over the years? Compared to 1947, we now produce 330 percent more goods and services per hour of work. On average, thanks to advances in technology, education, management, and so on, you can do in 15 minutes what your grandparents or great grandparents needed more than an hour to do in 1947. This is a substantial increase, and we can see it in the many improvements in living standards since World War II.

Productivity growth in recent years hasn’t been as strong, however. It may seem surprising, given all the new technologies and products in recent years, but we are now living through one of the lowest productivity-growth periods ever recorded. Since the Great Recession of 2007–09 began in the fourth quarter of 2007, labor productivity has grown just 1.0 percent per year. That is less than half the long-term average rate of 2.2 percent since 1947. Although the U.S. economy has been experiencing slow productivity growth since 2007, some industries have been doing well. For instance, the wireless telecommunication carrier industry has had annual labor productivity growth of over 15.0 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession.

Labor productivity growth in the nonfarm business sector is lower in the current business cycle than during any of the previous ten business cycles. Chart 1 shows average annual labor productivity growth during business cycles since World War II.

Chart 1. Average annual percent change in labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector during business cycles

Multifactor productivity—which accounts for the use of machinery, equipment, and other capital, in addition to labor—has also increased more slowly over the current business cycle; it has grown 0.4 percent per year during the 2007–15 period, compared to its long-term rate of 0.9 percent per year since 1987.

Historically, productivity growth has led to gains in compensation for workers, greater profits for firms, and more tax revenue for governments. Compensation, which includes pay and benefits, has not always risen as fast as productivity, however. (See chart 2.) The difference between labor productivity gains and real hourly compensation growth is often called the “wage gap.” Real hourly compensation growth tracked labor productivity growth more closely before the 1970s. Since then, growth in real hourly compensation has lagged behind gains in productivity, widening the gap considerably. Since the start of the Great Recession in the fourth quarter of 2007, real hourly compensation has grown by only 0.6 percent per year; that’s less than half the long-term average of 1.6 percent per year.

Chart 2. Labor productivity and real hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector, 1947–2015

Measures of gross domestic product and employment tell us how the U.S. economy is doing in producing goods and services and creating jobs. Measures of productivity link what our economy produces and the labor and capital used to produce it. Labor productivity is an important statistic to track because gains in productivity are essential to improving our lives and the well-being of our nation. That’s what Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman meant when he noted, “Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long-run it’s almost everything.”

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