Jeb Bush Fact Check: Is Declining Worker Productivity to Blame for America’s Economic Rut?
Jeb Bush said it July 8 in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader:
New Hampshire Union Leader: Anything specific?
Jeb Bush: “We’re working on a strategy to, that’s kind of under, let’s say, my aspiration for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is 4% growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut we’re in.”
Is the economic “rut” that America’s in the fault of American workers? Is the workforce participation rate really at all-time modern lows? Is the problem that Americans aren’t working like they “should”? Is the problem that American workers aren’t productive enough?
Here’s a general measure of workforce participation as gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: the participation rate of civilians aged 16 and over:
Is 1950 modern times? Is 1960? Is 1970? Is 1980 pre-modern?
There’s another problem with that figure… it includes people of retirement age who, of course, Jeb Bush isn’t suggesting should be back in the work force (is he?). This is why the BLS compiles a second statistic: the labor force participation rate of civilians of prime working years, age 25 to age 54:
In other words, the civilian labor force participation rate is historically really quite high for people in their prime working years. If Jeb Bush wants to make the overall labor force participation rate really go much higher, he’s going to have to put retirees back to work or he’s going to have to implement a child labor scheme. Is that what Jeb Bush really wants America to do?
For more than two generations, Americans’ work has steadily generated more and more economic output per hour worked. Employers have continued to get more and more and more out of their workers as the years have dragged on. American workers are not at fault here either.
Insisting that Americans who are already more than four times as productive as their grandparents should put their noses even harder to the grindstone is more than a little bit out of touch. Given Jeb Bush’s record as a corporate leader for an abusive employer, his statement is more than a little bit troubling.
P.S. This just in: Jeb Bush’s Super PAC just released its fundraising figures for the first half of 2015: $103 million. Where do you think all those millions came from? The workers Bush has been saying need to work longer hours? I’m guessing not, but Bush knows: according to Eli Stokols he’s hosting a two-day get-together today and tomorrow with his biggest contributors at the exclusive Bush family compound in Kennebunkport.