Productivity Growth Does Not Explain the Lack of Jobs

The Washington Post repeated a common complaint that the reason that the economy is not creating jobs is because employers are squeezing more productivity out of workers and therefore need fewer workers to produce the same level of output. Productivity growth cannot explain the failure for the economy to generate jobs thus far in this recovery.

While productivity growth has been strong over the last year, growing by 5.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008 through the fourth quarter of 2009, this is common for a period of recovery. Productivity grew at a 6.9 percent rate in the four quarters from the first quarter of 2001 to the first quarter of 2002, a 5.4 percent rate from the third quarter of 1982 to the third quarter of 1983, and a 4.6 percent rate from the third quarter of 1974 to the third quarter on 1975. The rapid productivity growth seen in the last four quarters is a typical pattern at the end of a recession, it does not explain the lack of job growth in this recovery compared with the rapid job growth in prior recoveries. The difference is rather explained by the relatively weaker growth in this recovery.

--Dean Baker

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