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Labor Productivity: Structural Change and Cyclical Dynamics

  • Martin Neil Baily
  • Eric J. Bartelsman
  • John Haltiwanger

A longstanding issue in empirical economics is the behavior of average labor productivity over the business cycle. This paper provides new insights into the cyclicality of aggregate productivity at the plant level as well as the role of reallocation across plants over the cycle. We find that plant-level productivity is even more procyclical than aggregate productivity because short-run reallocation yields a countercyclical contribution to labor productivity. At the plant level we find the cyclicality of productivity varies systematically with long-run employment growth. Over the course of the cycle, plants that are long-run downsizers exhibit significantly greater procyclicality of productivity than long-run upsizers. When we control for the direction of a cyclical shock, we find that the fall in productivity from an adverse magnitude than the fall in productivity from an equivalent adverse cyclical shock for long-run upsizers. We argue that these findings raise questions about one of the most popular explanations or procyclical productivity: changing factor utilization over the cycle.

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File URL: ftp://ftp2.census.gov/ces/wp/1998/CES-WP-98-07.pdf
File Function: First version, 1998
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Paper provided by Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau in its series Working Papers with number 98-7.

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Length: 31 pages
Date of creation: May 1998
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cen:wpaper:98-7
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  1. Ben S. Bernanke & Martin L. Parkinson, 1990. "Procyclical Labor Productivity and Competing Theories of the Business Cycle: Some Evidence from Interwar U.S. Manufacturing Industries," NBER Working Papers 3503, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Ricardo J. Caballero & Eduardo M.R.A. Engel & John Haltiwanger, 1995. "Aggregate Employment Dynamics: Building From Microeconomic Evidence," NBER Working Papers 5042, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Fay, Jon A & Medoff, James L, 1985. "Labor and Output over the Business Cycle: Some Direct Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 638-55, September.
  4. Saint-Paul, Gilles, 1993. "Productivity growth and the structure of the business cycle," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 861-883, May.
  5. Craig Burnside & Martin Eichenbaum & Sergio Rebelo, 1990. "Labor Hoarding and the Business Cycle," NBER Working Papers 3556, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Bentolila, Samuel & Bertola, Giuseppe, 1990. "Firing Costs and Labour Demand: How Bad Is Eurosclerosis?," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(3), pages 381-402, July.
  7. Aizcorbe, Ana M, 1992. "Procyclical Labour Productivity, Increasing Returns to Labour and Labour Hoarding in Car Assembly Plant Employment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 102(413), pages 860-73, July.
  8. Bean, Charles R., 1990. "Endogenous growth and the procyclical behaviour of productivity," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(2-3), pages 355-363, May.
  9. Shea, John, 1993. "Do Supply Curves Slope Up?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(1), pages 1-32, February.
  10. Bils, Mark, 1987. "The Cyclical Behavior of Marginal Cost and Price," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(5), pages 838-55, December.
  11. Katharine G. Abraham & John C. Haltiwanger, 1995. "Real Wages and the Business Cycle," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(3), pages 1215-1264, September.
  12. Robert E. Hall, 1986. "The Relation Between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," NBER Working Papers 1785, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Walter Y. Oi, 1962. "Labor as a Quasi-Fixed Factor," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 70, pages 538.
  14. Thomas J. Sargent, 1978. "Estimation of dynamic labor demand schedules under rational expectations," Staff Report 27, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  15. Ricardo J. Caballero & Eduardo M.R.A. Engel, 1992. "Microeconomic Adjustment Hazards and Aggregate Dynamics," NBER Working Papers 4090, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Gerard A. Pfann, 1996. "Adjustment Costs in Factor Demand," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(3), pages 1264-1292, September.
  17. Steven J. Davis & John C. Haltiwanger & Scott Schuh, 1998. "Job Creation and Destruction," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262540932, June.
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