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February 1997, Vol. 120, No. 2
Christopher Sparks and Mary Greiner
Labor productivity in U.S. manufacturing grew 3.4 percent in 1995, down about 1/2 percentage point from its 1994 performance. However, in a comparison of 11 industrial countriesthe United States, Canada, Japan, and 8 Western European nationsonly 3 countries (Italy, Japan, and Sweden) had higher productivity growth than the United States. In a comparison over the entire 197995 period, the United States fared less wellU.S. productivity growth rose faster than that of only 3 of 10 competitors, and only Norway had a slower rate of growth in the 1990s.
U.S. manufacturing unit labor costs were nearly unchanged in 1995, rising only 0.3 percent. In a comparison of 14 economiesa group that includes Denmark, Korea, and Taiwan, in addition to the 11 economies mentioned earlier 10 had greater unit labor cost increases than the United States, when unit labor costs are measured on a U.S. dollar basis to take account of relative changes in exchange rates. Unit labor costs increased by 10 percent or more in six European countries.
Between 1979 and 1995, half of the economies had rates of unit labor cost growth that were either less than or about the same as that of the United States. The U.S. rate ranked sixth lowest in the 1990s, compared with third lowest in the 1980s.
This article examines comparative trends in manufacturing productivity (output per hour) and unit labor costs in 1995, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, and for the 197995 period. The analysis covers the United States, Canada, Japan, Belgium, France, Germany (the former West Germany), Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Comparative unit labor cost trends for Denmark, Korea, and Taiwan have been developed and are included in the analysis. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not compute productivity measures for Korea and Taiwan because reliable labor input measures have not been developed. In addition, productivity measures for Denmark are not available due to a lack of hours data since 1993. (See the appendix for a description of the country measures.)
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 1997 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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