Diane Swonk: Worker productivity likely to remain high

A Home Depot employee checks a shelf at a store in Brooklyn, New York.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: For some analysis of the latest news on the labor front, let's turn to Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial. Good morning, Diane.

DIANE SWONK: Good morning.

MOON: First the drop in jobless claims -- the question we keep asking: Is that number enough to get employment back on track?

SWONK: Well, it's certainly a start and it's about the best we can hope for in this economy. We're finally getting back down to the levels of jobless claims that we saw in July of 2008 which is before Lehman failed, but still an economy that was in a recession. The good news is I do think we're going to see job gains. In the month of February we have seen a lot of momentum, but you know, even if we get 250,000 jobs we should be seeing 800,000 to make up the kinds of losses that we lost during the recession. We'll still be in the hole by the end of this year.

MOON: And what about that productivity number? I've gotta ask, how much more can American workers keep improving their productivity? There's got to be a finite limit to how hard those who do have a job can keep working, right?

SWONK: Well, actually what we're seeing is many firms not only are those who are working scared and not taking vacations like they once did, or even elective surgeries I might add because they're worried about their own jobs, but we're also seeing many firms invest aggressively in technology to further leverage the layer of force they have. So even as we're adding workers, we may see productivity slow down a bit but remain at very elevated levels they continue to reinvest in technology and try to get the biggest bang for the dollar out of every worker they've got.

MOON: Diane Swonk at Mesirow Financial, thanks so much.

SWONK: Thank you.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...