Automation: Unemployment and productivity

There's an untold story in the unemployment numbers: Rising productivity

By ·

In the month of July, the US economy added 163,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in July, according to the Labor Department, about 100,000 more jobs than were added in June.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate ticked up from 8.2% to 8.3%.

If you look only at the employment number, you get the picture of an economy that is trying to rock itself out of a snowbank. One month it moves a little bit forward and then next month it slips a little bit backwards. At the end of the day, it’s still stuck in the snow.

But there were two intriguing sentences in the New York Times report on the data:

“For context, the economy now produces as many goods and services – more, in fact – than it did before the downturn officially began in December 2007. But it does so with almost five million fewer jobs.”

Think about that for a moment. Our economy is churning out more product today than it did five years ago, when the economy was still humming along, but hitting those numbers with at least 5 million fewer people – or more, if you consider the people who were working but have permanently left the job market or are under-employed.

That is a productivity story. In better times, those are the kinds of numbers we would celebrate.

I ran this idea by Hal Vandiver, president of F. Hal Vandiver & Associates, who put the statement in the context of the materials handling industry. “If you look at why manufacturing companies are making money today, it’s because they have found more productive ways to deliver the same or more output,” Vandiver said. “That’s what our industry is all about.”

While none of us celebrates unemployment in a down economy, there’s no question but that US industry has been implementing warehouse and factory automation solutions at a record pace over the last four years. By all accounts, our industry is poised for continued, albeit slower growth in 2013. That’s a reflection that industry will continue to do more with less. 


About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

Subscribe to Modern Materials Handling Magazine!

Subscribe today. It's FREE!
Find out what the world’s most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today!

Article Topics

Automation · · All Topics
Latest Whitepaper
Hydrogen, the Future of Materials Handling
Large, successful organizations are integrating hydrogen fuel cell technology into their lift truck fleets and benefiting from lower operational costs, reduced emissions and improved reliability.
Download Today!
From the October 2016 Issue
Brownells’ new Iowa distribution center has taken touches—and miles—out of the order fulfillment process and increased throughput with near 100% accuracy.
System Report: Brownells new DC is flexible and responsive
Pallet Usage Report: Pallets Remain Critical in the Modern-Day Warehouse
View More From this Issue
Subscribe to Our Email Newsletter
Sign up today to receive our FREE, weekly email newsletter!
Latest Webcast
Pallets: Supporting Product, Processes and the Enterprise
The smallest leak in performance or cost can bring a lean, nimble and speedy supply chain to a halt. During this 30-minute webcast we'll examine how Modern's readers use pallets to keep the wheels turning as they maneuver a road filled with sharp edges and potholes.
Register Today!
Brownells: Designing for Efficiency and Growth
Brownells’ new Iowa distribution center has taken touches—and miles—out of the order...
Industry celebrates National Manufacturing Day
Fourth annual Manufacturing Day is a grassroots effort by U.S. manufacturers to improve the public...

American Eagle Outfitters’ omni-channel journey
The fashion retailer has used warehouse execution software and automation to create a true...
The data-driven lift truck
Now that manufacturers and distributors are using the data from their automated systems to drive...