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February 1997

U.S. and foreign productivity and unit labor costs

Christopher Sparks, Mary Greiner

Between 1979 and 1995, output per hour in U.S. manufacturing grew at a slower rate than in several other countries, but modest growth in hourly compensation helped the United States to restrain growth in unit labor costs relative to its foreign competitors. This article examines comparative trends in manufacturing productivity (output per hour) and unit labor costs in 1995, the most recent year for which comparative data are available, and for the 1979-95 period. The analysis covers the United States, Canada, Japan, Belgium, France, Germany (the former West Germany), Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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