Skip to main content

lhatheway6_FabrikaCrGettyImages_rolleddollarrisinggraph FabrikaCr/Getty Images

The US Economy’s Strange Decade

Weak productivity growth helps to explain the continued robust rates of job creation in the United States, as well as workers’ sluggish wage gains. If left unresolved, the productivity malaise will ensure that the current expansion remains uniquely unbalanced and unhealthy.

ZURICH – The current US economic expansion is extraordinary. Not only does it rival the longest on post-war record, but, unlike previous periods of sustained growth, it has not unleashed much inflation. Corporate profits have soared to unprecedented levels. And economic inequality in the United States is at its most extreme in a half-century.

Each of these unique features is paradoxically linked to another oddity: despite a mostly lackluster expansion since 2009, the US unemployment rate has fallen significantly further than would have been predicted by GDP growth alone. But perhaps the defining aspect of this strange decade-long expansion, and the one that helps to explain its main anomalies, is weak productivity growth.

Consider, first, the jobs phenomenon. Using a simple model relating unemployment to GDP growth – similar to Okun’s Law – indicates that the jobless rate has fallen by half a percentage point more per year during this expansion than history would have suggested. Since 2014, the rate of US employment growth has exceeded what GDP growth would have predicted by nearly one million jobs per year.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/QmRabdW;
  1. palacio101_Artur Debat Getty Images_earthspaceshadow Artur Debat/Getty Images

    Europe on a Geopolitical Fault Line

    Ana Palacio

    China has begun to build a parallel international order, centered on itself. If the European Union aids in its construction – even just by positioning itself on the fault line between China and the United States – it risks toppling key pillars of its own edifice and, eventually, collapsing altogether.

    1
  2. rajan59_Drew AngererGetty Images_trumpplanewinterice Drew Angerer/Getty Images

    Is Economic Winter Coming?

    Raghuram G. Rajan

    Now that the old rules governing macroeconomic cycles no longer seem to apply, it remains to be seen what might cause the next recession in the United States. But if recent history is our guide, the biggest threat stems not from the US Federal Reserve or any one sector of the economy, but rather from the White House.

    0
  3. eichengreen134_Ryan PyleCorbis via Getty Images_chinamanbuildinghallway Ryan Pyle/Corbis via Getty Images

    Will China Confront a Revolution of Rising Expectations?

    Barry Eichengreen

    Amid much discussion of the challenges facing the Chinese economy, the line-up of usual suspects typically excludes the most worrying scenario of all: popular unrest. While skeptics would contend that widespread protest against the regime and its policies is unlikely, events elsewhere suggest that China is not immune.

    3
  4. GettyImages-1185850541 Scott Peterson/Getty Images

    Power to the People?

    Aryeh Neier

    From Beirut to Hong Kong to Santiago, governments are eager to bring an end to mass demonstrations. But, in the absence of greater institutional responsiveness to popular grievances and demands, people are unlikely to stay home.

    1

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions