December 6, 2023
Non-farm productivity jumped 5.2% in the third quarter after climbing 3.6% in the second quarter after having declined 0.8% in the first quarter of this year. The second quarter increase consisted of a 6.1% increase in output combined with a 0.9% increase in hours worked. Hence, a 5.2% in productivity in that quarter. In the past year productivity has risen 2.4% which, with the exception of the pandemic years, is the biggest 4-quarter increase in productivity we have seen since 2010 — as we were coming out of the 2008-09 recession.
Productivity data are notoriously volatile so reading much into movements that occur over a couple of quarters is risky. But it is possible that because firms have been unable to hire as many workers as they wanted for the past couple of years they have been spending a lot of money on technology to boost output without increasing headcount. Could it be that all of that spending on technology is beginning to pay dividends in the form of faster growth in productivity? It is too soon to know, but perhaps worth thinking about.