Economic analysis can get weedy…. so a simple way to look at productivity is to think about baking bread in your kitchen.
If you were going to bake 4 loaves of bread it might take you 2 hrs start to finish. However, if you were going to bake 8 loaves of bread it would not take you twice as long because most of the tasks can be accomplished with simple increases in batch size, and only minor increases in labor time. Your productivity measured in the last four loaves is higher.
Economic Productivity is measured much the same way, within what’s called a production probability equation. Additionally, if two hours of your time are worth $40, each of four loaves of bread costs $10; but if you make 8 loaves in the same amount of time the labor cost is only $5/per loaf.
From 2007 through 2017 the average rate of productivity increase was 1.3%. However, in the second quarter of 2018 productivity jumped to 2.9%. That means total business output increased significantly as more product was demanded from within the business operation. Throughout the economy people just wanted more stuff.
Improved gains in efficiency/productivity (more bread needed) supports faster economic growth without generating higher inflation; no need to raise prices because your cost to make each loaf of bread decreases the more you make. Higher sales and lower per unit cost means more profit for the bread-maker. No need to raise prices. Without inflation, there’s no motive for the Fed to raise interest-rates.
Increases in productivity generally means the economy is generating more stuff. The more stuff generated the higher the value of all economic activity; this increases GDP growth.
When we see higher productivity in direct alignment with GDP increases, the increased production indicates sustainable GDP growth.
BLS Report: “Nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased 2.9 percent during the second quarter of 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, as output increased 4.8 percent and hours worked increased 1.9 percent.” (link)
We made 4.8 percent more stuff, and only worked 1.9 percent longer. The net is a 2.9 percent productivity increase.