Despite recent gains in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, longer workdays are keeping the United States more productive than other nations, a new report shows.
Last year, U.S. workers each produced $63,885 in value-added labor, compared to $55,986 by workers in Ireland, the next closest economy, according to the United Nation's International Labor Office.
Yet, measured as value added per hour worked, American workers dropped behind those in Norway where workers produced $37.99 per hour, compared to $35.63 in the United States and $35.08 in France. That's because U.S. employees tend to work much longer hours than workers in other developed economies, the Geneva-based agency reported.
By contrast, value added per worker in the Middle East, Latin America, and the Caribbean is roughly three times lower than in developed nations, while levels in Central and South Eastern Europe are 3.5 times lower. In Sub-Saharan Africa, productivity per worker is as much as one-twelfth behind those in industrialized countries.
Higher labor productivity is generally the result of greater investments in employee training and skills, equipment, and technology, the report said.
"The huge gap in productivity and wealth is cause for great concern," Juan Somavia, the agency's director general, said in a statement. "Raising the productivity levels of workers on the lowest incomes in the poorest countries is the key to reducing the enormous decent work deficits in the world."
The agency defines "decent work" as productive employment that provides fair income, job security and social protection for those who speak out and organize against unfair workplace conditions. According to the agency, 1.5 billion workers worldwide are "potentially underutilized" — including 195.7 million unemployed people and 1.3 billion earning less than $2 a day.
"Hundreds of millions of women and men are working hard and long, but without the conditions they need to lift themselves and their families out of poverty," Somavia said.
On the upside, the report found that productivity levels in East Asia have doubled in the past decade, where output per worker is grown to one-fifth of those in developed nations, up from one-eighth in 1996.
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