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U.S. productivity grows despite recession

NEW YORK — U.S. productivity weathered the recession well, growing 2.5 percent (in per hour terms) in 2009, The Conference Board reported.

This blip in the prevailing downward trend in U.S. productivity was largely explained by dramatically reduced working hours that offset output decline (employment fell by 3.6 percent in 2009; hours worked per worker by 1.5 percent.) U.S. productivity growth is projected at 3 percent for 2010.

European productivity growth turned negative in 2009, falling far behind the United States. Output per hour fell 1 percent in the Euro Area, whereas U.S. productivity growth remained remarkably strong, growing 2.5 percent in 2009.

“These are unusually large differences in productivity growth between the United States and Europe,” said Bart van Ark, chief economist of The Conference Board. “U.S. employers have reacted much more strongly to the recession than their European counterparts in terms of cutting jobs and hours. In 2010, both Europe and the United States will see higher productivity growth coming out of recession. However, a jobless productivity recovery is the most likely scenario in both regions.

“Most emerging markets outside Central and East Europe and Russia fared better than advanced economies on both output and productivity growth in 2009. Emerging economies are becoming global competitors to be reckoned with on the basis of high productivity growth, not just because of low cost.”

China’s productivity growth rate (8.2 percent) was the best among emerging markets in 2009 and is projected to be 7.7 percent in 2010. “China’s 2009 productivity growth is largely due to government stimulus supporting state-owned enterprises,” van Ark said. “Going forward, it remains to be seen whether this can continue as support for SOEs wanes.”

World productivity growth also declined in 2009 (-1 percent in terms of output per worker), putting it in negative territory for the first time in almost two decades, but it is expected to recover strongly in 2010 as both emerging and developing economies show stronger productivity performance.

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