The economists at NAPL have published some hard numbers about a hard reality—the slashing of the industry’s productive output as the recession maintains its cruel grip. In a recent post at the NAPL Biz Trends blog, we’re told that according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, total production hours in the commercial printing industry were down 14.2% in the first quarter of this year from a year ago. Over 80% of the NAPL Printing Business Panel (a survey base) reported in April that their factory payroll hours were lower than a year ago, with only 4% reporting that hours increased. Despite the drop in hours, 41.5% of the panel report that productivity is lower—a year ago the percent reporting lower productivity was 23.3%. With commercial print sales off by almost 15% in the first quarter, and with nearly 80% of the panel reporting declines in output, NAPL’s economic team concludes that output may be declining even faster than payroll hours. This would be consistent with what BLS data indicate for the manufacturing sector as a whole, where a steep drop in output (-14.0%) outpaced the sizable drop recorded in hours (-11.1%). As if that weren’t disturbing enough, unit labor costs are moving sharply in the opposite direction and are virtually impossible for manufacturers to pass through in the form of price increases. “In these difficult times for the printing industry,” says NAPL, “managing factory productivity and costs is especially critical, and being able to continuously monitor performance is vital.” Tools for accomplishing this are available to printers of all sizes, and every printer should be using them.