High profits, no jobs

They really have a nice little capitalist system, don’t they? Glad that’s working out for them!

Not far from where Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke grew up, a revolution inside a Campbell Soup Co. plant explains why U.S. corporations are piling up profits — with little need to hire more people.

Workers such as “Big John” Filmore, a 28-year Campbell veteran, huddle every day with management in situation rooms before their shifts to find ways to save money for the company. Rising productivity is helping boost profit margins here in Maxton, North Carolina, where 858 workers turn out a billion meals a year, and at most of the 243 non-financial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index with rising profit margins.

Companies slashed 8.5 million jobs during the worst recession since the Great Depression, while also slowing capital investment plans. Campbell, the world’s largest soup maker, DuPont Co., the third-biggest U.S. chemical maker, and United Parcel Service Inc., the world’s largest package-delivery business, are asking workers to help save cash by working smarter with existing technology. A potential cost: Efficiency gains reduce the chances recession-casualty jobs will come back.

“When the productivity growth comes, then watch out because that is when companies start not needing so much labor,” Edmund Phelps, a Columbia University economist and Nobel laureate, said in an interview.

Some 142 non-financial companies in the S&P 500 had improvements in operating margins of three percentage points or more from the final three months of 2007, when the previous expansion peaked, compared with the most recent quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg as of yesterday.