Wage Growth Puzzle and Capacity Utilization

Arto Kovanen


Wage growth and consumer price inflation in the United States remain weak, despite robust labor market and a healthy economy. This has been a conundrum for policymakers and economists alike, albeit it is not without parallels. In this paper, we analyze recent trends in the labor market. We point out that a number of indicators are providing mixed signals about the tight labor market, including wage growth that has remained muted, vacancy duration rates that have stayed remarkable stable in certain sectors, and the rate of capacity utilization, which is cyclically low and out of sync with other measures of resource utilization (e.g., output gap and unemployment rate). This leads us to conclude that there could be other forces that explain these phenomena. In this paper, we focus on capacity utilization and contend that low capacity utilization rates are the outcome of strategic decision-making by corporations, rather than inefficient demand, which permits firms to manage their resources more effectively. It seems to be particularly important when economic and policy uncertainties are elevated, such as in the post-financial crisis environment. More flexible use of capacity has implications not only for the labor market, but also for investments. Understanding capacity utilization would contribute to monetary policy formulation when the signal coming from the rate of capacity utilization is not consistent with those coming from the labor market and the output gap. This points to the need to continue monitor a broad range of indicators to avoid potential policy errors.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11114/aef.v6i2.3985


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Applied Economics and Finance    ISSN 2332-7294 (Print)   ISSN 2332-7308 (Online)

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