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Problems in the Measurement and Performance of Service-Sector Productivity in the United States

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  • Robert J. Gordon

Abstract

Not only has U.S. productivity been poor by international standards but it is highly heterogeneous at the disaggregated industry level. Manufacturing has continued to do well while nonmanufacturing has done poorly, especially the services. Within services, apparel retailing has done well while food retailing has done badly; railroad productivity has accelerated while airline productivity has decelerated. This dispersion of performance argues against a single over-arching explanation of the slowdown. The recent shift to chain- weighted productivity measures substantially increases the magnitude of the U.S productivity slowdown and shifts it later in time. Performance in the 1970s is better than previously thought, while performance in the 1990s has been substantially worse. In addition, productivity performance in each decade has been understated due to an upward bias in the Consumer Price Index This 'CPI bias' has led to an uneven understatement of productivity change, with major errors in manufacturing, trade, and some services. The paper emphasizes two substantive causes of the productivity slowdown that go beyond measurement errors. First, some industries (e.g. electric utilities and airlines) reached a technological frontier in which the sources of earlier rapid productivity growth were exhausted. Second, slow productivity growth in food retailing and some service industries reflects a feedback from the weak bargaining position of U.S. labor. Weak unions, a falling real minimum wage, and immigration have combined to keep real wages in U.S. service industries relatively low, and this encourages overhiring by the standards of some other industrial nations.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert J. Gordon, 1996. "Problems in the Measurement and Performance of Service-Sector Productivity in the United States," NBER Working Papers 5519, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5519
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Vicente Esteve, 2004. "Política fiscal y productividad del trabajo en la economía española: un análisis de series temporales," Revista de Analisis Economico – Economic Analysis Review, Universidad Alberto Hurtado/School of Economics and Business, vol. 19(1), pages 3-29, June.
    2. Patrick Francois & Joanne Roberts, 2003. "Contracting Productivity Growth," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(1), pages 59-85.
    3. Cassou, Steven P. & Lansing, Kevin J., 1998. "Optimal fiscal policy, public capital, and the productivity slowdown," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 22(6), pages 911-935, June.
    4. Andrew J. Filardo, 1997. "Cyclical implications of the declining manufacturing employment share," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, vol. 82(Q II), pages 63-87.
    5. Wachter, Till von, 2001. "Employment and productivity growth in service and manufacturing sectors in France, Germany and the US," Working Paper Series 0050, European Central Bank.
    6. Andreas Breitenfellner & Antje Hildebrandt, 2006. "High Employment with Low Productivity? The Service Sector as a Determinant of Economic Development," Monetary Policy & the Economy, Oesterreichische Nationalbank (Austrian Central Bank), issue 1, pages 110-135.
    7. David, P.A., 2000. "Understanding Digital Technology's Evolution and the Path of Measured Productivity Growth: Present and Future in the Mirror of the Past," Papers 99-011, United Nations World Employment Programme-.
    8. Pelaez, Rolando F., 2004. "Dating the productivity slowdown with a structural time-series model," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 253-264, May.
    9. Bo?ena Kade?ábková & Emilie Ja?ová, 0000. "Phillips curve during the economic cycle in the Czech Republic and Poland in the years 2000 to 2016," Proceedings of Economics and Finance Conferences 11413218, International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences.
    10. Rafael Gomez & David K. Foot, 2003. "Age Structure, Income Distribution and Economic Growth," Canadian Public Policy, University of Toronto Press, vol. 29(s1), pages 141-162, January.
    11. Roy H. Webb, 1998. "National productivity statistics," Economic Quarterly, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Win, pages 45-64.
    12. Mary Gregory & Giovanni Russo, 2004. "The Employment Impact of Differences in Dmand and Production," DEMPATEM Working Papers wp10, AIAS, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies.
    13. Bozena Kaderabkova, 2016. "Development of the economic cycle on labour market in the national economy and industry of the Czech Republi," Proceedings of Business and Management Conferences 4407037, International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences.
    14. Messina, Julian, 2006. "The role of product market regulations in the process of structural change," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(7), pages 1863-1890, October.
    15. Soledad Núñez & Miguel Pérez, 2000. "La rama de servicios en España: un análisis comparado," Working Papers 0007, Banco de España;Working Papers Homepage.
    16. Charles Steindel, 1997. "Measuring economic activity and economic welfare: what are we missing?," Research Paper 9732, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    17. John Haltiwanger, 1997. "Measuring and analyzing aggregate fluctuations: the importance of building from microeconomic evidence," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue May, pages 55-78.
    18. Božena Kadeřábková & Emilie Jašová, 2011. "Analýza ukazatele NAIRU na sektorové úrovni [Analysis of the Indicator NAIRU on the Sector Level]," Politická ekonomie, Prague University of Economics and Business, vol. 2011(4), pages 508-525.
    19. Sultan, Muyed, 2008. "The Tertiary Sector Is Going to Dominate the World Economy; Should We Worry?," MPRA Paper 14681, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    20. Areendam Chanda & Carl-Johan Dalgaard, 2005. "Wage Inequality and the Rise of Services," DEGIT Conference Papers c010_016, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.

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