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Are workers more productive, or just screwed?

by Eve Tahmincioglu

With a 10.2 percent unemployment rate, everyone seems to be scratching their heads.

There’s been a lot of speculation over the weekend on why the heck the economy seems to be turning around but the job market is still lagging.

The consensus among most economists and Wall Streeters is American companies have just gotten smarter and American workers are just more productive. Through outsourcing and better management, they just don’t need as many workers. That’s the theory at least.

This from a piece by Peter. S. Goodman in the New York Times this past Sunday:

Automation and globalization have supplied thrifty corporate managers with myriad ways to boost production without hiring.

“It’s a change in the structure of the business cycle,” argues Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics, who has put together a panel to discuss the subject at a January meeting of the American Economic Association in Atlanta. “There appears to be a new tendency to substitute against labor. It’s permanent, as long as there are alternatives like outsourcing and robotics.”

So basically, workers were all a bunch of lazy good for nothings that just needed a kick in the patootie?

No where do any of these stories about the economy does it talk about whether workers are just being squeezed too much, doing the work that would have taken two people in the past. Also, few articles point out the obsession by so many managers to cut the number of workers but still churn out the same goods and services because if they don’t their own salaries would suffer.

It’s not a secret that the pay gap between top managers and the rank and file has hit historic levels. Where do you think the fat paychecks are coming from folks? Could it be that they’re coming from all those salaries these firms don’t have to pay anymore because they’re not hiring them back?

And where are these productivity numbers coming from anyway? Are they really an accurate refection on what’s going on at U.S. companies.

The New York Times had another story today on how productivity data may be defective after all:

… Many argue that labor productivity is rising faster than the pay of workers who made the greater productivity possible. That argument would be watered down if more accurate data showed that productivity had been overstated.

“What we are measuring as productivity gains may in fact be changes in trade,” said William Alterman, assistant commissioner for international prices at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So maybe workers aren’t as productive after all, and employers need to start hiring back some of the employees they let go.


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