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U.S. productivity contracts in first quarter; labor costs rise
May 4, 2017 / 12:40 PM / 7 months ago

U.S. productivity contracts in first quarter; labor costs rise

WASHINGTON - U.S. worker productivity unexpectedly fell in the first quarter, leading to a jump in

FILE PHOTO -- Construction workers build a single family home in San Diego, California, U.S. on February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

labor-related costs.

The Labor Department said on Thursday that nonfarm productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, decreased at a 0.6 percent annualized rate.

That was the weakest in a year and followed an upwardly revised 1.8 percent pace of increase in the fourth quarter.

The weakness in productivity is in line with a near stall in economic growth at the start of the year. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast productivity unchanged in the first quarter after a previously reported 1.3 percent growth rate in the prior

quarter.

Compared to the first quarter of 2016, productivity increased at a 1.1 percent rate, suggesting a gradual improvement in the productivity trend.

Productivity has increased at an average annual rate of 0.6 percent over the last five years, well below its long-term rate of 2.1 percent from 1947 to 2016.

Weak productivity could make it difficult to boost annual economic growth to 4 percent as President Donald Trump has promised. The government reported last week that gross domestic product increased at a 0.7 percent rate in the first quarter,

the worst performance in three years.

Some economists believe productivity is being inaccurately measured, especially on the information technology side.

Others blame low capital expenditure, which they say has resulted in a sharp drop in the capital-to-labor ratio.

Unit labor costs, the price of labor per single unit of output, increased at a 3.0 percent pace in the first quarter after rising at a 1.3 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Compared to the first quarter of 2016, unit labor costs rose at a 2.8 percent rate.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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