Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2004 / 18 Shevat, 5764
American jobs must be protected
The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in two years. Businesses created 112,000 new jobs in January - the best performance since December 2000. But typically at this stage of economic recovery, the economy should be generating 200,000 to 300,000 new jobs each month.
There are two principal reasons why that's not occurring, in my opinion. First, companies are working their employees harder and longer, which results in higher productivity but diminished hiring. The second, and by far the more insidious, influence at work is the corporate exporting of American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets. This exporting of America simply has to stop if we are to preserve the American dream for our middle class.
Powerful corporate lobbies in Washington insist that outsourcing jobs overseas is beneficial to business, whose interest they represent. As a result, Congress has yet to take action to stem the hemorrhaging of American jobs. The Bush administration doesn't even recognize the problem. And the corporate mantra of efficiency, productivity and competitiveness is nothing more than 21st century code for cheap labor and, in some cases, slave labor.
The Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have come together to defend their use of cheap foreign labor to Congress. Business groups also have begun sounding the usual anti-protectionist cries in response to the recent passage of the Senate spending bill, which includes a provision forbidding offshore outsourcing by some government contractors. Tita Freeman of the Business Roundtable, for instance, was quick to assert that "isolating ourselves from the worldwide arena is not the answer."
But if we are to maintain a thriving workforce and a thriving national economy, outsourcing to the cheapest foreign bidder is not the answer. Forrester Research estimates that $136 billion in wages will be shifted from the United States to lower-wage countries by 2015.
Business groups claiming that outsourcing is good for the U.S. economy have simply gotten it wrong.
"Their argument rests on the fact that American workers who are displaced by this exportation are re-employed pretty quickly at equivalent jobs, says Ron Hira, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Right now, that's not happening."
In fact, in every state except Nevada and Nebraska, high-paying jobs lost in the recession are being replaced by work in lower-paying industries.
What's worse is that we do not have any concrete data, on a national level, to fully analyze the scope of the problem. Currently, the federal government compiles no statistics regarding how many jobs have been lost to cheap overseas labor.
In addition to maintaining better data on the outsourcing of employment overseas, the U.S. government also needs to curtail misuse of L-1 visas. Last week, the House International Relations Committee heard testimony from Americans who have lost their jobs to foreigners who hold the controversial form of work visa. Congress has been considering legislation that would drastically cut the number of foreign workers corporations can bring into this country. But to date, none of those bills has come to a vote.
These visas were intended to help bring in guest workers temporarily, as a last resort and not as a first choice.
"My research shows that those visa programs are being used to accelerate the process of exporting jobs," Hira says. "It's one thing ask American technology workers to compete with low-cost labor from halfway around the world, but to ask them to compete with low-cost labor from down the street is just unreasonable."
American workers can compete with workers in any part of the world, but they're not being asked to compete - they're being asked to give up their standard of living and their quality of life.
Either corporate America must find a conscience, or Congress must find the will to preserve the American dream. Call it protectionism if you will. But since when is the American middle class not worthy of protection?
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0//03/04: Dangerously dependent