boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Study: US workers are world's most productive

GENEVA - American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory, or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a UN report that said the United States "leads the world in labor productivity." The report was released in Geneva today, which is Labor Day in the United States.

The average US worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, followed by Luxembourg at $55,641, Belgium at $55,235, and France at $54,609.

The productivity figure is found by dividing the country's gross domestic product by the number of people employed. The UN report is based on 2006 figures for many countries, or the most recent available.

Only part of the US productivity growth, which has outpaced that of many other developed economies, can be explained by the longer hours Americans are putting in, the ILO said.

The United States, according to the report, also beats all 27 nations in the European Union, Japan, and Switzerland in the amount of wealth created per hour of work - a second key measure of productivity.

Norway, which is not an EU member, generates the most output per working hour, $37.99, a figure inflated by the country's billions of dollars in oil exports and high prices for goods at home. The United States is second at $35.63, about a half dollar ahead of third-place France.

Seven years ago, French workers produced over a dollar more on average than their American counterparts. The country led the United States in hourly productivity from 1994 to 2003.

The US employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French.

It pales, however, in comparison with the annual hours worked per person in Asia, where seven economies - South Korea, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, and Thailand - surpassed 2,200 average hours per worker. But those countries had lower productivity rates.

America's increased productivity "has to do with the ICT (information and communication technologies) revolution, with the way the US organizes companies, with the high level of competition in the country, with the extension of trade and investment abroad," said Jose Manuel Salazar, the ILO's head of employment.

The ILO report warned that the widening of the gap between leaders such as the US and poorer nations has been even more dramatic.

Laborers from regions such as southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East have the potential to create more wealth but are being held back by a lack of investment in training, equipment and technology, the agency said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, workers are only about one-twelfth as productive as those in developed countries, the report said.

"The huge gap in productivity and wealth is cause for great concern," Juan Somavia, director general of the ILO, said.

More from Boston.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES