Tag Archives: Productivity

Let’s Celebrate the Productive U.S. Workforce

Earlier this month our nation celebrated Labor Day. We celebrate Labor Day for many good reasons, but one of the best is to appreciate, even for just one day, how amazingly productive our nation’s workforce is. As we shop online or in stores, we rarely stop to think about the skills and effort it takes to produce our goods and services. Let’s take a moment to celebrate that productivity and the progress we have seen in the last few years.

Indeed, productivity of labor is at the heart of the American economy. How much workers produce for each hour they labor and how efficiently they use resources determines the pace of economic growth and the volume of goods that supply everyone (workers included) with the products and services that shape our daily lives. Growing productivity means that our standard of living very likely is improving.

Our workers are very productive. On average, each U.S. worker produced goods and services worth $129,755 last year. That’s compared with the next largest world economies: Germany at $99,377; the United Kingdom at $93,226; Japan at $78,615; China at $32,553; and India at $19,555.

Despite our great reliance on rising productivity to attain the good things of life, academics and researchers still marvel at the mysteries that surround the subject. What drives productivity change? What are the key factors behind these international differences in output per worker?

For example, does the quality of labor alone determine the rate of productivity growth? It is certainly a component of what drives labor productivity, although some countries have high educational and training levels but low productivity per worker. Labor quality has been steadily rising in the United States, but we don’t know the impact on productivity as the baby boomers retire and are replaced.

What is the right mix of labor and technology needed for changing the productivity growth rate? How can we measure the value of the dignity of work, or the personal and social value that work yields? And, what is the role of technical knowledge and product design in determining the productivity of labor?

Then there’s the mysterious role of innovation. Economists think they know that invention and scientific breakthroughs can make massive changes to productivity. However, which innovations transform productivity, and have all the low-lying fruits of productivity enhancement already been harvested?

Despite our strong international showing, analysts who watch these data may be a tad bit concerned with the sluggishness in U.S. productivity growth over the past 10 years. Since 2011, the rate of growth in labor productivity has slowed to one-third of the pace shown between 2000 and 2008, despite acceleration in the past 2 years. Even when we broaden the concept of productivity to include the output attributable to the combination of labor and other productive factors (also known as multifactor productivity), the rate of growth is still one-third of the pace it was in the first decade of this century.

Even with a subsidence in the growth rate, it is worth noting that both labor input and output are on the rise. Since the start of the current business cycle expansion in 2009, the rate of growth in labor input has been five times what it was prior to the Great Recession during the previous expansion.

Output has also grown steadily, but at a slower rate than hours. Because labor productivity is the quotient of output divided by hours, productivity can slow even when both components are rising. The relationship between the relative growth of output and hours is one of the many features that makes productivity both challenging and fascinating to study.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics engages with an extensive network of researchers in and out of the academic community whose mission is, like ours, to better understand and measure the productivity of the U.S. labor force. Labor productivity is an amazing subject because it incorporates so many facets of the nation’s economy into one statistic. By peeling back layers and looking at the details behind the summary number, we can gain valuable insight on the hours and output of our nation’s workforce. We will continue to produce and provide context for these valuable statistics that help tell the story of America’s workers.

That said, we should never lose sight of the big picture. America’s workers lead the world in their capacity to create the goods and services that define our economy and improve our lives. And that, certainly, is something great to celebrate!

Labor Day 2019 Fast Facts

I have been Commissioner of Labor Statistics for 5 months now, and I continue to be amazed by the range and quality of data we publish about the U.S. labor market and the well-being of American workers. As we like to say at BLS, we really do have a stat for that! We won’t rest on what we have done, however. We continue to strive for more data and better data to help workers, jobseekers, students, businesses, and policymakers make informed decisions. Labor Day is a good time to reflect on where we are. This year is the 125th anniversary of celebrating Labor Day as a national holiday. Before you set out to enjoy the long holiday weekend, take a moment to look at some fast facts we’ve compiled on the current picture of our labor market.

Working

Working or Looking for Work

  • The civilian labor force participation rate—the share of the population working or looking for work—was 63.0 percent in July 2019. The rate had trended down from the 2000s through the early 2010s, but it has remained fairly steady since 2014.

Not Working

  • The unemployment rate was 3.7 percent in July. In April and May, the rate hit its lowest point, 3.6 percent, since 1969.
  • In July, there were 1.2 million long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more). This represented 19.2 percent of the unemployed, down from a peak of 45.5 percent in April 2010 but still above the 16-percent share in late 2006.
  • Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for teenagers was 12.8 percent in July 2019, while the rates were 3.4 percent for both adult women and adult men. The unemployment rate was 6.0 percent for Blacks or African Americans, 4.5 percent for Hispanics or Latinos, 2.8 percent for Asians, and 3.3 percent for Whites.

Job Openings

Pay and Benefits

  • Average weekly earnings rose by 2.6 percent from July 2018 to July 2019. After adjusting for inflation in consumer prices, real average weekly earnings were up 0.8 percent during this period.
  • Civilian compensation (wage and benefit) costs increased 2.7 percent in June 2019 from a year earlier. After adjusting for inflation, real compensation costs rose 1.1 percent over the year.
  • Paid leave benefits are available to most private industry workers. The access rates in March 2018 were 71 percent for sick leave, 77 percent for vacation, and 78 percent for holidays.
  • About 91 percent of civilian workers with access to paid holidays receive Labor Day as a paid holiday.
  • In March 2018, civilian workers with employer-provided medical plans paid 20 percent of the cost of medical care premiums for single coverage and 32 percent for family coverage.

Productivity

  • Labor productivity—output per hour worked—in the U.S. nonfarm business sector grew 1.8 percent from the second quarter of 2018 to the second quarter of 2019.
  • Some industries had much faster growth in 2018, including electronic shopping and mail-order houses (10.6 percent) and wireless telecommunications carriers (10.1 percent).
  • Multifactor productivity in the private nonfarm business sector rose 1.0 percent in 2018. That growth is 0.2 percentage point higher than the average annual rate of 0.8 percent from 1987 to 2018.

Safety and Health

Unionization

  • The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions—was 10.5 percent in 2018, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2017. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.

Work Stoppages

  • In the first 7 months of 2019, there have been 307,500 workers involved in major work stoppages that began this year. (Major work stoppages are strikes or lockouts that involve 1,000 or more workers and last one full shift or longer.) For all of 2018, there were 485,200 workers involved in major work stoppages, the largest number since 1986, when about 533,100 workers were involved.
  • There have been 15 work stoppages beginning in 2019. For all of 2018, 20 work stoppages began during the year.

Education

  • Occupations that typically require a bachelor’s degree for entry made up 22 percent of employment in 2018. This educational category includes registered nurses, teachers at the kindergarten through secondary levels, and many management, business and financial operations, computer, and engineering occupations.
  • For 18 of the 30 occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2016 and 2026, some postsecondary education is typically required for entry. Be sure to check out our updated employment projections, covering 2018 to 2028, that we will publish September 4!

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that! Want to learn more? Follow us on Twitter @BLS_gov.

Wage Information Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

On April 16, BLS reported that median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary workers rose 2.7 percent over the year.

On April 30, BLS reported that the Employment Cost Index for wages of private industry workers rose 3.0 percent over the year.

On May 2, BLS reported that hourly compensation in the nonfarm business sector rose 2.5 percent over the year.

On May 3, BLS reported that average hourly earnings for private industry workers rose 3.2 percent over the year.

What’s going on here? Why so much wage information? And which one is RIGHT?

At BLS, we get questions like this all the time, and the answer is usually “it depends.” There is no one answer that fits every question on wages; there are just different answers depending on what you want to measure. People come to BLS looking for all kinds of answers, and we want to provide as much information as we can. Thus, we have many measures of wages (and other forms of compensation) — a dozen, to be exact.

Do you want to know about wages for an industry? An occupation? By location? For men and women? Based on education? Adjusted for inflation? Including benefits? How wages relate to spending patterns? How wages relate to worker productivity? BLS has it all, and more.

We have so much wage information that even we get confused. So we developed a tool to make the dozen wage series a little easier to understand. It’s an interactive guide that lists all 12 data sources and 32 key details about each of those sources, like how often it is available.

I can hear you now — that’s 384 pieces of information (12 x 32). I’m just looking for one piece of information, not almost 400. And how do you fit all that information on one page, anyway?

The interactive guide limits the display to 3 sources at a time — you pick the sources you want to see.

A table showing 3 BLS sources of compensation information and data characteristics available from those sources.

Or you can pick one characteristic, like “measures available by occupation” and get an answer for all 12 data sources.

A table showing the occupational information available from several BLS data sources on compensation.

This tool is on the BLS beta site. We want you to give it a try and provide feedback. Check it out and leave us a comment. Want to know even more? Watch this video that helps make sense of BLS wage information.

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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