U.S. Productivity during Fourth Quarter Declined Less Than Thought

Nonfarm productivity in the U.S. was down less steeply than was previously thought during the 2018 fourth quarter, but still pushed costs up that were labor related as businesses employed more people to increase output.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor said that productivity, which measures the output hourly per worker, fell at an annualized rate of 2.2% and not the pace of 3% that it reported in February.

Nevertheless, it was still the largest drop since the 2014 first quarter.

Economists polled were expecting productivity for the fourth quarter to be revised and show it contracting at a rate of 3.2%. Productivity increased by a rate of 2% during the third quarter and increased only 0.7% in all of 2015, it smallest gain in nearly three years.

The weaker productivity reflects the slowing down of growth in the gross domestic product during the fourth quarter of 2015 and the acceleration in the rate of hiring.

Growth in the economy slowed to a rate of 1% in the last three months of 2015 from a pace of 2% during the third quarter at the same time that payrolls that were nonfarm, increased at an average monthly of 279,000.

Productivity has expanded at an annual rate of under 1% in each of the past five years. The average rate annually of growth in productivity between 2007 and 2015 was 1.2%, which was far below the rate over the long term of 2.2% between 1947 and 2015.

While the weak productivity boosted growth in employment as businesses hired additional workers to help increase output, sustained weakness might undermine the living standards of Americans. Soft productivity has substantially lowered the long run potential of the economy.

During the fourth quarter, the hours worked were up 3.2%, instead of the 3.3% reported in February.

Growth in the unit labor costs, which is the price of labor for a single unit of output, were revised down to a rate of 3.3% from a pace of 4.5%.

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