We’ve tracked labor productivity in the U.S. for about 70 years. For most of that time, it’s risen steadily along with economic growth. Recessions just saw little blips — that is until the last one when productivity rose sharply.
Researchers found that productivity jumped even more sharply in areas with higher unemployment — fear of the ax seems to have motivated Americans to work their tails off.
Another factor that increases productivity is a growing rate of educational achievement. Dale Jorgenson, a professor of economics at Harvard University, says the impact of education is diminishing because the portion of the workforce with higher education is growing at a slower rate than before.
Jorgenson says it takes decades of data to figure out what normal productivity is, so it’s best to not get too caught up in those quarterly reports.