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Productivity: what is it and why do we care about it?

  • Charles Steindel
  • Kevin J. Stiroh

Economists, business analysts, and policymakers have all focused considerable attention on U.S. productivity growth in recent years. This paper presents a broad overview of productivity--both labor and total factor--and discusses why it is such an important topic. We begin with the official U.S. productivity statistics prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and discuss several stylized facts. We show how productivity relates to critically important variables like long-run growth, living standards, and inflation. We then describe the proximate factors that determine labor productivity using a standard growth accounting framework. Finally, we outline a series of unresolved productivity issues that have direct implications for the future of the U.S. economy.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 122.

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Date of creation: 2001
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:122
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  1. Daniel E. Sichel, 2000. "The Productivity Slowdown: Is A Growing Unmeasurable Sector The Culprit?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(3), pages 367-370, August.
  2. Susanto Basu & John G. Fernald, 1994. "Are apparent productive spillovers a figment of specification error?," International Finance Discussion Papers 463, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Griliches, Zvi, 1994. "Productivity, R&D, and the Data Constraint," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(1), pages 1-23, March.
  4. John G. Fernald & Susanto Basu, 1999. "Why is productivity procyclical? Why do we care?," International Finance Discussion Papers 638, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  5. William D. Nordhaus, 2002. "Productivity Growth and the New Economy," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 33(2), pages 211-265.
  6. W. Erwin Diewert & Kevin J. Fox, 1999. "Can measurement error explain the productivity paradox?," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 32(2), pages 251-280, April.
  7. Lawrence Slifman & Carol Corrado, 1996. "Decomposition of productivity and unit costs," Staff Studies 1, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Dale W. Jorgenson & Kevin J. Stiroh, 2000. "Raising the Speed Limit: U.S. Economic Growth in the Information Age," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 31(1), pages 125-236.
  9. repec:fth:harver:1487 is not listed on IDEAS
  10. Norsworthy, J R & Malmquist, David H, 1983. "Input Measurement and Productivity Growth in Japanese and U.S. Manufacturing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(5), pages 947-67, December.
  11. Charles R. Hulten, 2000. "Total Factor Productivity: A Short Biography," NBER Working Papers 7471, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Martin Neil Baily & Robert J. Gordon, 1988. "The Productivity Slowdown, Measurement Issues, and the Explosion of Computer Power," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 19(2), pages 347-432.
  13. Hall, Robert E, 1988. "The Relation between Price and Marginal Cost in U.S. Industry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 921-47, October.
  14. Stiroh, Kevin J, 1998. "Computers, Productivity, and Input Substitution," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(2), pages 175-91, April.
  15. Charles Steindel, 1999. "The impact of reduced inflation estimates on real output and productivity growth," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 5(Jun).
  16. D. W. Jorgenson & Z. Griliches, 1967. "The Explanation of Productivity Change," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 34(3), pages 249-283.
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