Why Is the US Economy Sort of Sluggish?

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A new paper from a trio of Fed researchers suggests that our recent sluggish growth is mostly a result of demographic changes and technological slowdown. The retired share of the population has increased, which means the working share of the population has decreased. Since workers are the ones who produce goods and services, it makes sense that GDP growth will slow down in an economy with fewer adults of working age. Ditto for an economy in which technological progress is slackening.

I’ve pointed out the same thing before in the case of Japan, and it makes sense. But how about in the US? The easiest way to see the rough shape of the river is to simply look at GDP per working-age adult. That eliminates most of the demographic issues. When you do this for the US, you get a trendline that still shows a decline in GDP growth: it’s down by about one percentage point since 1978.

You can also look at total factor productivity, which gives us an idea of the effect of technological change that’s independent of demographics. Over the past 60 years, it’s been pretty flat.

Both of these are volatile series, so take them with a grain of salt. That said, productivity hasn’t changed much, but GDP per working-age adult has steadily decreased anyway. This suggests that neither demographics nor technological progress really explains things. So what does?

NOTE: This bit of amateur economics was made possible by a grant from the Committee to Prevent Endless Blogging About Donald Trump. The author thanks them for their generosity.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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