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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

This week's spate of data highlighted the difficulties Americans who have lost their jobs have had bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic, and just how much those who have managed to keep their jobs have been working.

What's happening: The Labor Department reported Thursday that the productivity of American workers fell by a revised 4.2% annual rate in the fourth quarter, the largest decline in 39 years.

  • The productivity decline was due to an increase in output by 5.5% that was accompanied by a 10.1% increase in hours worked.
  • Unit labor costs and hourly compensation both increased, but largely because lower-wage workers have disproportionately been pushed out of the labor force, driving up the average.

What it means: Less people are working and those who are, are working more.

Between the lines: The increased work employees have done has been great for big companies, who have significantly cut back their workforce numbers over the past year.

  • Companies with more than 1,000 total employees cut more than 5,000 jobs in February and reduced their labor headcount by 4.7 million jobs since February 2020, according to ADP's private payrolls data.
  • Over the past three months, companies with 1,000-plus employees shed an average of 39,000 employees a month, while companies with 1–49 employees added an average of 26,500.

Why it matters: The pandemic has shifted the business landscape to one that strongly favors large companies over small ones, so we can likely expect more of this in the future.

The big picture: Big companies have been able to feast on record-low borrowing rates as the Fed's quantitative easing programs and implicit backstopping of the bond market have made it easy for just about any large company to raise money by issuing debt.

  • Small companies without capital market access have seen much the opposite, as banks have tightened lending standards and pandemic-hit businesses have struggled to survive with minimal support from government programs like the Paycheck Protection Program.

Why you'll hear about this again: The Fed and chair Jerome Powell say they are keeping interest rates low and maintaining incredibly easy monetary policy as part of the effort to tighten the labor market and help Americans get back to work.

  • But big companies have shown they aren't using the Fed's bounty to hire workers. They are hoarding money in cash reserves and investing in new technology designed to replace workers.

Of note: Thursday's initial jobless claims data showed that another 1.2 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment claims last week, and 18 million remained on unemployment insurance as of Feb. 13.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Mar 3, 2021 - Economy & Business

The Fed could be firing up economic stimulus in disguise

Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard at a "Fed Listens" event. Photo: Eric Baradat / AFP via Getty Images.

Even as global growth expectations increase and governments pile on fiscal spending measures central bankers are quietly restarting recession-era bond-buying programs.

Driving the news: Comments Tuesday from Fed governor Lael Brainard suggest the Fed may be jumping onboard the global monetary policy rethink and restarting a program used following the 2008 global financial crisis.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Mar 4, 2021 - Economy & Business

How the tech stock selloff is hurting average Americans

Expand chart
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Investors holding the ultra-popular Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 index funds have been hard hit over the last two weeks as tech shares have been roiled by rising U.S. Treasury yields.

Why it matters: Even though the economy is growing and many U.S. stocks are performing well, most investors are seeing their wealth decline because major indexes no longer reflect the overall economy or even a broad swath of public companies — they reflect the performance of a few of the country's biggest companies.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
38 mins ago - Technology

Meet your doctor's AI assistant

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Artificial intelligence is breaking into the doctor's office, with new models that can transcribe, analyze and even offer predictions based on written notes and conversations between physicians and their patients.

Why it matters: AI models can increasingly be trained on what we tell our doctors, now that they're starting to understand our written notes and even our conversations. That will open up new possibilities for care — and new concerns about privacy.