EDITOR'S NOTE: A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that productivity is at a 60-year low while labor costs are skyrocketing. Mish Talk looks at these numbers to see what is happening and why it is happening. The author notes that a 5.2% decrease in productivity in Q3 of 2021 is the biggest drop since 1960. Also, the cost of this less productive labor has increased 9.6% in the last year. Finally, Mish looks at the combination of reasons that this is happening. These reasons include less selective employers thanks to the labor shortage, the child tax credit and stimulus incentivizing people to stay home, job jumping, and Baby Boomer retirements.
Productivity is down and costs are up. There are are least 6 contributing factors.
Photo: Mish Talk
Labor Productivity and Costs
The BLS report on Productivity and Costs shows labor costs are soaring while quarterly productivity is at a 60-year low.
Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked by all persons, including employees, proprietors, and unpaid family workers. In the third quarter of 2021, both output and hours worked increased for the fifth consecutive quarter following historic declines in those measures in the second quarter of 2020.
Labor Productivity Lowlights
- Nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased 5.2 percent in the third quarter of 2021 as output increased 1.8 percent and hours worked increased 7.4 percent.
- This is the largest decline in quarterly productivity since the second quarter of 1960, when the measure decreased 6.1 percent.
- From the third quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2021, nonfarm business sector labor productivity decreased 0.6 percent.
- The four-quarter rate is the largest decline since the fourth quarter of 1993, when the measure also declined 0.6 percent.
Unit Labor Costs
- Unit labor costs in the nonfarm business sector increased at an annual rate of 9.6 percent in the third quarter of 2021, reflecting a 3.9-percent increase in hourly compensation and a 5.2-percent decrease in productivity.
- Unit labor costs increased 6.3 percent over the last four quarters.
- The BLS calculates unit labor costs as the ratio of hourly compensation to labor productivity.
- Manufacturing sector labor productivity decreased 1.8 percent in the third quarter of 2021, as output increased 5.1 percent and hours worked increased 7.0 percent.
- In the durable manufacturing sector, productivity increased 0.7 percent, with a 9.7-percent increase in output and an 8.9-percent increase in hours worked.
- Nondurable manufacturing sector productivity decreased 3.6 percent, as 0.3-percent growth in output was outpaced by 4.0-percent growth in hours worked.
- Total manufacturing sector productivity increased 2.2 percent from the same quarter a year ago.
- Manufacturing sector output is now 1.0 percent above its level in the fourth quarter of 2019, the last quarter not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Hours worked in manufacturing remain 3.2 percent below the fourth-quarter 2019 level.
Manufacturing Labor Costs
- Unit labor costs in the total manufacturing sector increased 4.6 percent in the third quarter of 2021, reflecting a 2.7-percent increase in hourly compensation and a 1.8-percent decrease in productivity.
- Manufacturing unit labor costs increased 3.7 percent from the same quarter a year ago.
Photo: Mish Talk
The numbers today are revisions to preliminary numbers for the third quarter that the BLS released last month.