Washington, U.S. worker productivity rose at a much slower pace than initially estimated in the first quarter, the government reported Wednesday, suggesting the economy could struggle to maintain the current strong pace of growth.
The Labor Department said productivitythe amount of output per hour of workwas revised down to a 0.4 percent annual increase from the 0.7 percent rate reported last month. Productivity increased at a 0.3 percent pace in the fourth quarter of 2017. Compared to a year earlier, first-quarter productivity increased at a 1.3 percent rate.
Slower productivity is being accompanied by rising labor costs, which could hurt company profits in the long term. Unit labor coststhe price of labor per single unit of outputrose at a 2.9 percent pace in the January-March quarter, an upward revision from the 2.7 percent rate reported in May. Labor costs rose at a 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter.
Productivity, a key factor determining how fast the economy can grow and how much living standards can increase, has been weak during the economic recovery from the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Finding a solution to the slowdown in productivity growth is considered one of the key challenges facing the United States.
Gains in productivity allow companies to pay their workers more without having to increase the cost off their products, a move than can lift inflation. An economy's potential for growth is determined by growth in the labor force factors of birth rates and immigration and productivity growth.
Economists are uncertain why recent productivity has been so weak. For the past seven decades, from 1947 through 2017, productivity has posted average annual gains of 2.1 percent. But between 2007 through 2017, growth has slowed to about half that pace, with average annual gains of only 1.2 percent. In 2016, productivity failed to grow, marking the weakest performance in 35 years.
Source: Saudi Press Agency