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

  • Charles Steindel
  • Kevin 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. Zvi Griliches, 1998. "Productivity, R&D, and the Data Constraint," NBER Chapters, in: R&D and Productivity: The Econometric Evidence, pages 347-374 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Basu, S. & Fernald, J.G., 1993. "Are Apparent Productive Spillovers a Figment of Specification Error," Papers 93-22, Michigan - Center for Research on Economic & Social Theory.
  3. repec:fth:harver:1487 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. William D. Nordhaus, 2000. "Productivity Growth and the New Economy," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1284, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Stiroh, Kevin J, 1998. "Computers, Productivity, and Input Substitution," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(2), pages 175-91, April.
  9. Susanto Basu & John Fernald, 2001. "Why Is Productivity Procyclical? Why Do We Care?," NBER Chapters, in: New Developments in Productivity Analysis, pages 225-302 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Charles R. Hulten, 2000. "Total Factor Productivity: A Short Biography," NBER Working Papers 7471, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Lawrence Slifman & Carol Corrado, 1999. "Decomposition of Productivity and Unit Costs," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 328-332, May.
  15. 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.
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