Row Harder, Slaves! Productivity, Unemployment Claims Up, Costs Down

Good news for whip-crackers: In the fourth quarter of 2009, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals, U.S. productivity rose at a 6.2 percent annualized rate -- output up 7.2 percent, hours worked up one percent. It's the biggest such jump since 2002. Unit labor costs -- the ratio of hourly compensation versus productivity -- went down 4.4. percent in non-farm businesses.

At the same time, new unemployment claims rose slightly in the last week of January, from 472,000 to 480,000. National unemployment remains at 10 percent, and is forecast to go up to 10.1 percent. "Businesses are simply postponing their hiring for as long as possible," says Washington economist Richard DeKaser.

And what are we being paid for this? This increase in hourly compensation last quarter was 1.5 percent, which is a slowdown from the 5.5 rise the quarter before.

Deutsche Bank economist Joe LaVorgna attributes the productivity lift -- in the last quarter and throughout 2009 -- to "rising output amid ongoing labor cuts."

Put simply: The declining number of us who are still working are working harder and getting more done, and being not being compensated accordingly. But you probably knew that.


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