The last two quarters were even more extreme: Productivity in the nonfarm business sector grew at a shocking 8.1% annual rate. There are two possible explanations. One: The last two quarters were among the most technologically innovative and entrepreneurial in the history of the United States. Two: Fearful businesses pared payrolls to the bone. If the second is closer to the truth, payrolls are extraordinarily lean right now. Which means that firms will need to hire more workers as their sales and production grow. Which means that employment may start growing sooner than the pessimists think.
I have been pointing this out for months, but until the last employment report, it was a hypothesis supported by no evidence. Not anymore. While payrolls continued to decline in November, it was by only a scant 11,000 jobs; and the job counts for September and October were revised upward. The data now show a clear trend that suggests that net job creation may be only a month or two away. We’ll see.
There is more to the case for optimism. For one thing, less than 30% of February’s $787 billion fiscal stimulus has been spent to date; over 70% is still in the pipeline. Pessimists dote on the fact that the rate of increase of stimulus spending has probably peaked and will be lower in 2010. True. But the level of GDP will continue to get support from fiscal policy, and a second job-creation package (“Please don’t call it a stimulus!”) looks to be in the works.