Higher Industrial Production Sign Increased Growth?

Popular Economics Weekly

Industrial production in April grew at the fastest monthly rate in more than three years on the back of broad-based gains in the manufacturing sector, reports the Federal Reserve. Industrial production grew 1 percent in April led by a 5 percent increase in motor vehicle production. It was because business investment is up sharply, as is consumer spending.

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Graph: Econoday

Business equipment, in a positive indication for second-quarter business investment, rose a very sharp 1.2 percent, reports Econoday, which could be a sign of a badly needed business expansion. “Production of consumer goods was even stronger, up 1.5 percent. Two negatives are hi-tech industries with a small decline and also construction supplies which posted a second straight dip that offers a reminder of this morning’s disappointing housing starts report.”

There’s an obvious reason for the surge in business investment. Businesses need more automation, as they can’t find enough qualified workers to fill the 5.743 million, job openings reported in the Labor Department’s latest JOLTS report, much more plentiful than total hirings of 5.260 million in April, a gap of 483,000.

That also means an ultimate surge in badly needed Labor Productivity that has been lagging of late. From the first quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017, productivity increased just 1.1 percent, reflecting increases in output and hours worked of 2.4 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, said the BLS.

And without higher labor productivity, the US economy can’t grow more than the current 2 percent GDP growth rate. What was the rate during periods of higher growth? Until 2000, economic growth averaged more than 3 percent, while productivity averaged 2.5 percent until 2007.

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But then something happened. Average productivity plunged to 1.2 percent from 2010 onward. Why? Businesses stopped investing, for starters. This was partly due to the plunge in oil prices (from $100 to $30 per barrel last year), and consequent plunge in industrial production.

But our population also began declining, the other component to GDP growth (besides labor productivity). Until 2000, the U.S. population grew more than 1 percent, but since 2000 average population growth halved to about 0.5 percent.

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Graph: CBO

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that we would need 2.8 million new workers per year to reach the 3 percent growth rate that Trump and Repubs want. Where will they come from? New immigrants, as the U.S. currently generates just 600,000 new job entrants per year, on average.

The baby boom is gone, in other words, and even the record-breaking millennial generation won’t help growth, unless we have both higher productivity and immigration quotas for working age adults.

Harlan Green © 2017

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly, The Huffington Post, and PeaceCorpsWorldwide.org.
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