Business


Jobs growth lag revenue and profit for big US firms



Washington: Employment growth at the largest United States companies has lagged far behind increases in revenue and operating profit since the start of the century, as firms reaped the benefits of globalisation, technology, and other ways to operate more productively, according to an analysis of corporate data.

From 2001 to 2013, inflation-adjusted revenue at 100 of the largest publicly traded companies grew 71 per cent and inflation-adjusted operating profit rose 150 per cent. Global headcount reported in company financial filings rose 31 per cent.

Their headcount grew faster globally than overall employment in the US, but it is unclear from corporate disclosures how much of the hiring took place outside the US.

Information from individual companies suggests a lot of the new jobs were created overseas, especially given that in this period there was offshoring and outsourcing of work that was done previously in-house and in the US. There was also substantial growth in sales in foreign markets and a resulting expansion of operations overseas.

The data highlight a central question that officials in the US President Barack Obama administration and at the US Federal Reserve confront: has the nation's ability to generate well-paying jobs in manufacturing and other sectors been fundamentally scarred by changes in the global economy that may predate the 2008-2009 economic crisis but were more starkly revealed in its aftermath.

The answer could have major implications for economic policy decisions, such as how long the Fed keeps interest rates at very low levels to stimulate jobs growth.

At the US Federal Reserve, Chair Janet Yellen has spoken of the steady drift in national income "away from labor and towards capital," while some policymakers worry the full depth of the changes are not yet clear.

"We have to understand what structurally is going on ... Is the country really changing in a fundamental way?"
Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Dennis Lockhart said last month, citing the possibility that 'polarised labour markets' could become entrenched. That would mean a workforce based on large numbers of lower paid workers, with a few highly paid managers, professional and technology workers.

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