Browse By

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:

Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate, 1948 to 2015

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:

Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate for those aged 25-54, from 1948 to 2015

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?

And as for the notion that worker productivity is the problem, well, let’s look at another BLS statistic, labor productivity per hour worked (defined here):

Labor Productivity (Economic Output per Hour Worked), 1948-2015

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.

23 thoughts on “Jeb Bush Fact Check: Is Declining Worker Productivity to Blame for America’s Economic Rut?”

  1. ella says:

    14,376,599 people went on disability between 2000 and 2014, according to Social Security. And that was only approximately an average of 35% of applications received between 2000 and 2014.
    JEB just had a record donations announcement of 114 million at a single fund raiser.
    And I cannot understand exactly what JEB means. He doesn’t seem to be very descriptive in this case. But actually, there are many positions that are about as non-productive as it gets. If he is talking about high end jobs, then he may be right,they do need to go to work. That way it will take fewer workers to do an hours work a day. But the lower end workers are worked to pieces and more need to be hired to ease the load. Hours are not really standard any more are they? 20 hours, 30, hours and few work 40 hours any more. When does overtime begin for the poor?Work ethics are higher among the 54 and up group. They aren’t looking for what they already know about.

  2. Charles Manning says:

    Jim Cook: as usual, a very well stated and objective critique. I wonder if it will appear in the MSM? In the “debates” (Republican or Democrat)? What a shame if it doesn’t.

    And let’s not forget that the important thing isn’t what Bush believes, but what his big-dollar donors believe and/or want. I’m sure they, like Bush, don’t have to work 40 hours a week to pay for necessities, and are all for putting a heavier burden on their employees who do have to work like that. But the media won’t interrogate the donors, even if they come up with a question or two for Bush himself.

  3. Tom says:

    As usual, Jeb, like all the Bush family is full of shit and has no idea what’s going on. Productive – what does that mean? It means producing stuff, crap, junk – anything, as long as it makes MONEY. Trouble is, the Earth isn’t going to cooperate with this line of thinking any more. He hasn’t gotten the memo yet because he’s “rich” (insulated from reality). Everything has changed and is in the process of getting worse. Food production is falling rapidly, potable water is drying up in many places – and that’s the BASE of what humanity needs to survive! Fires are raging, the oceans are dying and the ice is melting.

    Politicians are DAFT and they lie endlessly to keep up this charade – because they represent the few who benefit from all this nonsense. It won’t go on much longer. We’ve already seen the beginnings of the impact on ‘first world’ countries with Greece, not to mention many other nation-states and island nations before them. It’s only going to get worse.

    Enjoy your privilege while you have it. It will be gone before you know it.

  4. Jim Cook says:

    Thanks, Charles, and I agree with you on your point about funders.

    Tom, this UN agricultural report seems to indicate that food production is at historical highs: .

  5. Tom says:

    Yes, maybe for now Jim, but look at what’s going on climate-wise – it’s getting harder and harder to grow crops AND the water’s drying up all over the place. Do a little research, or just ask Green Man if i’m imagining this – from China through the Middle East, the whole latitude is having real set-backs in output. And it’s only going to get worse with sea level rise. Don’t play ignorant Jim – i’ve been reading you for years now (and appreciate your point of view), i feel from what you’ve written that you know this as well as i do. The ocean – i can’t keep up with all the articles of die-off: whales, manatees . . .starfish . . all the way down to plankton (who are now eating the micro-plastic pollution) being decimated. The only positive is jellyfish which are proliferating, for now. Happy Days!

  6. thedogfacedboy says:

    Tom: “…Food production is falling rapidly….”
    Jim: “….food production is at historical highs:….”
    Tom: “…maybe for now…” and “…if i’m imagining this…”

    This sounds like when Congress says they’ve cut spending, when what they’ve cut is the rate of increase of spending.

    It’s either falling or it’s not. This statement shows either total ignorance of the truth, or such a firm set of ideological beliefs that the actual truth does not matter to him.

    I didn’t read the link to the UN report, but I’ll take Jim’s summary at its face and assume food production is actually higher than ever before. That does not mean, however, that the increase in food production has kept pace with the increase in population growth (and subsequent need for higher than ever food production) or that equitable distribution has increased.

    It’s well known that we waste tons of food in this country every day, yet hungry people still exist. (many due to their own shortcomings) I drive through enormous acreage of fallow farm land in the U.S. every week.

    If someone wanted to make the point that we could do better world-wide at decreasing hunger, I could swallow that. (pun intended) Educating people on real modern sustainable farming methods is important.

    But when people like Tom and others here make these apparently patently-false statements like “food production is falling rapidly” I just start tuning them out as ideological whack-jobs.

    Why do so many of you assume the best way to educate and inform people is to make outrageously biased, stupid, and unintelligent blather talking points, you lose the chance to make sensible people stop and think about any important points you might be making. You lose the chance to have thoughtful people understand and come around to your point of view.

  7. thedogfacedboy says:

    I think the participation he is referring to is an overall increasing of the number of hours that individuals work. The above WSJ article discusses how we still have too many people stuck in part-time jobs that they do not want, as opposed to finding meaningful full-time work. That is not reflected in the chart shown, and I believe that really is an issue for many Americans.

  8. thedogfacedboy says:

    Also, as far as the BLS definition of productivity and the associated chart, here is another factor not shown. When a worker loses a job, and then finds another full-time one, but at lower pay, if total output does not change, then his lower pay (compensation) causes the BLS figure of productivity to rise.

    In other words, if you lost your job and then got rehired at the same place (which I have seen happen) for lower pay, you’ve just made the BLS productivity figure rise, other factors remaining equal.

    A lot of people I know (which I know is anecdotal, but I’m stating it anyway) who lost their jobs in 2009 have not found work which pays equally to what they made prior. These are often later middle-age workers.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      I agree with you — this is one of the ways companies “increase productivity,” which means in effect paying people less to do the same amount of work.

  9. thedogfacedboy says:

    the other chart there I thought was interesting was this:

    The civilian employment population ratio took a solid hit, and has only slightly rebounded.
    That seems to indicate where a lot of these new jobs are coming from….

  10. ella says:

    There are a lot of scare rumors that go around, like the US food supply will drop drastically due to the drought in California. Or egg prices have increased dramatically because of bird flu, which has been touted in the southeast. Of course it takes a little over a month to have a new supply of chickens and an additional 6 months for then to become layers. But that is translated into “for the foreseeable future” egg prices will be very high. Food shortage and water shortage are fears easy to play on, especially as political tools. We’re all tired of war fears. GMO products are losing their hold due to forced labeling on packaging. But food prices do appear to be rising anyway, that is real. Gas prices are seasonally rising, but that has a future yet to be told.

    The world has long had technology to observe weather conditions globally. and there is cooperation among many countries to keep food supplies circulating. The Earth is indeed going through many changes, many caused by human pollution both on land and in the oceans. Plant and animal extinctions have long been being documented.

    Politically translating our problems without causing undue fears, it would seem, is to not say the negative and concentrate on the positive. Neither major party is willing to expose their dominant candidates to very close scrutiny. For one thing, using another persons ideas has become an unfortunate occupation of some candidates in their struggle to make it to the top. JEB is a good candidate, he does have good ideas that he does not want to expose yet, be patient. I say that based on his background. He has fallen behind Donald Trump for the time. And wouldn’t that be a hoot! President Donald Trump and say, VP JEB!

  11. thedogfacedboy says:

    No No No
    Trump should have Carly Fiorina as his VP candidate. It’s way past TIME that we have a woman VP. And I think her picture should be on the wooden nickel as well. (dated reference)

    Trump as President would be very good for the country economically. All the late night comedians and their writers will be working overtime, at least.

  12. Tom says:

    Keep your head in the sand, that way you won’t have to face reality, thedogfacedboy (and Jim).

    1. Jim Cook says:


      Do you have some systematic reports of food supply by region that you would like to share? Critique and criticize by all means, but back it up.

  13. Bruce Nappi says:


    This topic has drawn some good comments. Let me add a few points from my perspective.

    “Is declining worker Productivity to Blame for America’s Economic Rut?” NO! It’s not even in the right ballpark. The biggest problem raised by this question and the discussion is the failure of COMMUNICATION in modern culture due to COMPLEXITY.

    The huge increase in the complexity of modern culture causes two problems: there are many more issues involved; and each issue has more depth and detail. To manage this, people typically only grab on to a superficial summary of a topic, and only put minimal effort into it. That means, when terminology is thrown around in a discussion, most of the time, the discussion gets derailed by misunderstandings and abandoned when it starts wandering. This discussion is suffering that fate.

    For example, to relate “worker productivity” to “economic rut”, we first have to be specific about what element of “worker productivity” is in question and what “economic rut” we’re talking about. Is this all just about getting the GDP back above 4%? OR, is it about the high unemployment rate? Or the collapse of house prices? At one time or another over the last 7 years, each of these was held to be the problem. Isn’t the unemployment rate now down? Aren’t housing prices back up? So, what’s still the problem?

    First off, let’s get rid of the red herrings. The “unemployment rate” typically announced in the commercial press ( U-3) is useless. It worked as a “fair” indicator in the past because it was part of a variables set that was internally stable. Most serious thinkers now know it’s misleading because it doesn’t include all the people who’ve given up looking for work or who are in desperation jobs. The real rate ( U-6) is currently 11%. Gallup poll puts it at 14.6%. It also doesn’t separate out the 18-29 age range who face 17% or more. But the real unemployment number is also misleading because, as per the BLS graph, back in the 50’s, when many women stayed home to raise kids, the world was a much happier place with 35% not working. My mother and aunts didn’t work. Yet life seemed a lot happier.

    The same kind of problem applies to productivity. The BLS graph shows current “productivity” about four times the 1950 level. Then why do both adults in modern families have to work? My father had a joke about this. He said (1955), “modern appliances can now do 50% of a housewives work. So they should all go out and buy 2 of every one of them!” Of course, he never had to sit in traffic for an hour getting to work. He walked. I walked to school. The problem with the “productivity” graph is that it is mixing apples and oranges. In 1950, “made in the U.S.A.” labor was making cars, appliances, building materials, tools, home goods. In 2015, we’re selling insurance and stocks to each other, cutting lawns, doing pedicures, and caring for sick people who are living much longer. Without being specific about what “value” work is producing, “productivity” ratios can’t explain much.

    While “productivity” is typically considered “good”, there is a problem with its connection to AUTOMATION. Sure, for a given base of workers, increasing output seems like a good thing. But when machines can produce much more of a product than people can use, then automation guarantees job losses. The concept of productivity is also misleading for “rate limited jobs”. For example, barbers can’t easily double or quadruple the number of haircuts they give.
    Productivity measures the production of STUFF! In 1955, I made a scooter for my 2 brothers and me with discarded roller skate wheels and an old board. In 2015, the kids next door to me have lithium battery powered go-carts, iphones, ipads, wide screen TVs, house cleaners, yard care etc. They have three cars, and multiple storage pods. Yet they complain all the time, that “they can’t keep up!” Is this the “economic rut” bush is talking about?

    Maybe the problem is GDP? But on a “per capita” basis, the U.S. is third in the world! Behind only Norway and Singapore. (

    So, we’re back to the 4% growth rate problem. That number is historically significant because it was the GDP growth that was usually associated with a 5% U-3 unemployment rate – i.e. happy work force. It also accompanied 3% bank interest rates and 6% mortgage loans. For American’s to be happy, all of these things are needed. But for simpleminded political speeches, 4% is the banner. If we get that, then all will be well. What simpleminded can’t understand is that the foundation has changed. These economic values don’t have the same relationship anymore. So, to get a meaningful answer to the question, we need to abandon 4% GDP growth and dig deeper into what really defines America’s RUT.

    Come on readers. Jump in here. What is making the “American Dream” a nightmare?

    1. ella says:

      Americans had gardens and local farmers to bring produce to ‘block’ vegetable stands and local grocery stores (in cities) and there was still a milkman to deliver to our home. Not only that, mother would wait for the neighbors boy to come home (walk home) from school and one time a week he would bring certain things to her from the neighborhood grocery store or general store. Of course he earned change for that good deed. Women didn’t all just sit and chatter or play bridge all afternoon either. Some were very involved in organizing care and help for their neighborhoods. No one went without work, even if it was just something to tide them over. And the church was there to help with food and clothes, sometimes a business owner would chip in too. That is micro economy, but it is magnified when spread around many communities. People were happier, had hope and a future. Of course there are always bad eggs, it isn’t a perfect world.

  14. Tom says:

    The evidence is overwhelming. Mass die-offs are already occurring, both poles are melting (but the Arctic and Greenland are melting much faster than the Antarctic) so there’s sea level rise baked in, which will effect roughly half the global population, if not all of us in some way or another (like supply chain disruption for one), topsoil and soil micro-organism depletion (from factory farming) guarantees we’ll run out of arable land to feed the ever-growing human population (250,000 new people per day births minus deaths), fresh water is drying up or being destroyed due to human consumption, farming and stupidity (dumping fracking waste into CA aquifer for example), Fukushima all by itself is an extinction level event (because it continues to spew toxic radioactive waste into the biosphere every second and the technology to contain or control this disaster haven’t been invented yet – so it will keep on poisoning the planet for thousands of years to come).

    i could go on for days, but nobody will read it (too long with too many links that you could look up yourself if you cared at all, but it seems you’re just into gushing over how privileged we are and how everything’s just great – unless you’re a bee or a bird or a manatee, whale, starfish, eel . . . moose, taiga antelope, even the plankton are dying off).

    Read wit’s end blog for dying trees (and other vegetation) from tropospheric ozone; arctic news blog for methane release, robertscribbler for el nino and arctic concerns (among a wide variety of topics he tackles), sea level rise is covered in a lot of places, and NBL for the whole package including science links to the information. For crop loss information, keep your eyes on CA for the U.S. and in other countries daily stories of weather related crop failures and environmental collapse abound just look for them. We might skate by for a year or two (though i doubt it), but food shortages are already a fact of life in many countries, but not here (at least now widespread) just yet.

  15. Bruce Nappi says:

    Tom. Don’t mistake my question. Personally, I don’t think not having a 4% GDP tells us anything at all. The real “rut” in the economy is a long list of problems like the ones you listed. I’m on your side with this. That’s what I’m trying to bring out in the discussion. Once many viewpoints list out what they think people believe are the economic negatives, we can put them in a table and the REAL concerns will jump off the page.

    By the way, the Club of Rome / Limits to Growth study, that anticipated the inability of the world to avoid a population crash circa 2020, came to that conclusion WITHOUT INCLUDING THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE. That is, a crashing economy was anticipated based on depletion of natural resources and lack of control of pollution alone. So, the climate disasters you listed will just make the crash more severe.

  16. thedogfacedboy says:

    “… We might skate by for a year or two (though i doubt it),…”

    It’s exactly statements like this one that make people not be taken seriously.

    I’m cautiously hopeful I will still be here in a year or two, to be able to observe this significant worldwide shortage of food and general collapse. I’m going to bet each of you reading this ONE MILLION DOLLARS (little pinky in cheek, as well as tongue) that this is not likely to occur.

  17. Tom says:

    thedogfacedboy: i’m not trying to convince you of anything. You live in the world and will see (and i hate it, but the extinction is real and happening), there’s no argument (and no time for one).

    That rattling sound is the food chain – Desperate hopes for July 1st ban on sardine fishing in Pacific Ocean

    Study: We’re already in the ‘worst case scenario’ for sea level rise

    appreciate the time you have, everyone

  18. Tom says:

    Decreasing Bumblebee Territory Could Pave The Way For Food Shortage In North America

  19. Tom says:

    Listen to this talk by Jeremy Jackson, senior scientist emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution and professor of oceanography Emeritus at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, discusses how saving the oceans and ourselves will require fundamental changes in the ways we live and obtain food and energy for everything we do.

    Published on Nov 25, 2014

    Common Hour: Ocean Apocalypse Now

    Before the first half hour he states “agricultural failure is expanding all over the planet.”
    (at 26:19)

    So this is OLD NEWS and NOTHING is being done except business as usual. You want to ignore the information, do so at your peril.

    That’s all i’m saying about this here. Stop being delusional and promoting the happy-clappy state of affairs.

  20. ella says:

    I’ve been waiting to be sure, but now there is no hope for my garden this year. First it was too cold, then it as too wet, then there were a huge number of male blooms and no or few female blooms. Then it got hot and it hasn’t broken yet, late July, but the rain stopped. Some folks are getting showers or down-burst thunderstorms, heavy lightening, and/or hail. Guess I’m glad the rain is passing by. And they are not sure that El Nino has set up on the west coast yet. It seems to be more off the coast of Peru, but maybe it will come north.
    Extinctions are man made as well as a matter of climate change, like over fishing in Mexico, or Japan. Oceanic ‘peoples’ deliberately killed off by our Navy to test a sonic weapon. The results of GMO plants has infested former food production areas. How long will it take to destroy that disaster – if ever. TOM, it is happening, but the worse case scenario for global flooding from ice melt hasn’t happened yet. Greenland is still melting at an accelerated rate, even though there was a shortened melt season this year. There are miles of ice yet to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Psst... what kind of person doesn't support pacifism?

Fight the Republican beast!