The Commerce Department reported this morning that real gross domestic product (GDP, the widest measure of economic activity) grew at just a 0.7 percent annualized rate in the last quarter of 2015. For the second half of 2015, the economy grew at just a 1.4 percent rate. This growth rate is normally consistent with rising unemployment and is far too slow to make policymakers concerned with economic overheating and inflationary pressures.
While the underlying rate of growth is surely higher than the 0.7 percent fourth quarter pace, it remains too slow to guarantee a rapid achievement of full employment. In fact, the only thing keeping job growth relatively healthy in the face of such anemic GDP growth is the continued atrophy of measured productivity growth (a measure of how much output is generated in each hour of work). This slow productivity growth is likely itself a function of continuing economic weakness. In short, today’s data highlights the need for policymakers—particularly the Federal Reserve—to make economic growth and full employment a top priority and the need to refrain from undertaking measures (like further interest rate increases) that would slow the pace of growth in the coming year.