|Topic||Productivity and Growth|
|Key Words||Productivity, Economic Growth, Unemployment Rate, Inflation|
The U.S. economy has just completed its sixth straight year of economic growth averaging almost 4 percent. In February, the current economic expansion, which began in April 1991, will become the longest in U.S. economic history. Unemployment has been below 6 percent for 5 ½ years, below 5 percent for 2 ½ years and, below 4.5 percent for a year. The core inflation rate is less than 2 percent and measures of labor costs are increasing more slowly than last year. An economy at this late stage of an expansion usually shows signs of splitting at the seams: shortages, or tight labor markets that lead to accelerating inflation and then recession. Perhaps with the exception of the stock markets, there is considerable balance in the economy, reflected by recent data showing the low level of core inflation. Based upon today's economic conditions, economists are providing generally optimistic forecasts for the next few years.
Productivity has been an important element restraining inflation during these past few years. Businesses have continued to add much cost-saving new technology. The added capital should boost productivity even further and improve economic efficiency. Inflation has also been held in check by increased international competition. Even large oil price hikes have not added significantly to the inflation rate.
With interest rates at low levels and the federal budget in surplus, both monetary and fiscal policy-makers appear to be able to handle any significant shock to the economy. Consequently, economists are forecasting slightly lowered growth for the year 2000 with no significant economic downturn on the horizon. This picture could change rapidly if the economy is derailed. Downturns could be produced by:
(Updated February 1, 1999)
|Source||John M. Berry, "After the Boom, More of the Same?" The Washington Post, January 2, 2000.|
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