High productivity is a sign of a healthy economy. When worker productivity falls it is usually seen as a sign of trouble, especially if it persists over extended periods. Productivity growth rates are already extremely volatile in normal business cycles.
The inflation crisis, the destructive economic policies of President Joe Biden and his administration and the ongoing recovery from the damage done to businesses by the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdowns and mandates have made the situation much more precarious, and over the past year worker productivity has been more prone to extreme fluctuations. (Related: The most epic and dangerous economic STORM in history is now upon us.)
Initial projections from the BLS suggested that nonfarm worker productivity would only decline by 5.3 percent during the first quarter of 2022. Wall Street analysts expected a 5.4 percent decline.
Productivity declined even though overall hours worked increased by 5.5 percent, based on the BLS report.
At the same time, business unit labor costs, or how much a business has to pay to produce one unit of output, increased by 11.6 percent. This is the largest single increase since 1982. Economists only expected unit labor costs to increase by 6.8 percent in the first quarter. The higher than expected figure shows that America's economic situation is continuing to decline.
Hourly compensation, or the average amount of wages and benefits paid to employees, increased by 3.2 percent. However, real wages actually dropped because inflation-adjusted compensation fell by 5.5 percent.
Economic analysts noted that the record-breaking drop in worker productivity should not be blamed on American workers being lazy in the office. Rather, the poor numbers are reflective of the fact that the economy has contracted. The country's gross domestic product (GDP) during the first quarter declined by 1.4 percent.
"The key thing is productivity is actually measured by taking GDP and dividing it by hours worked. And GDP was freaking weird in the first quarter," said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, in an interview with Fortune. "If you dig into the GDP numbers, you actually see healthy growth, but the top-line GDP numbers are negative because of a decline in inventories and an increase in imports, which has nothing to do with workers becoming less productive."
"We just keep getting hit, one after another, with a lot of challenges, but the sector continues to just plug along," said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, who noted that the manufacturing sector has been incredibly resilient in the face of these disastrous economic policies.
"Since inflation is running at an 8.5 percent annual rate, the United States is entering a period of stagflation, in which stagnant growth is combined with persistent inflation. The last time we saw this was in the late 1970s. Is President Joe Biden the new Jimmy Carter?" wrote Carlo Toscano, a retired tax managing director and expert on tax planning. "The current stagflation problem is a result of federal government policy."
"To fix today's stagflation and minimize the pain to Americans, Biden needs to reverse the policies that caused the problem," continued Toscano, who believes one of the key things that needs to happen is for government spending to be reigned in. "Inflation hurts lower-income and fixed-income people the most. The fiscal and monetary policy blunders in 2021 have led to today's stagflation."
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