April 18, 2004

April 18, 2004 | Commentary on Jobs, Jobs and Labor Policy

Myths about Jobs and Outsourcing

The American economy never rests. At this moment, in fact, economic growth is vigorous. Yet every time there is a slight dip in the acceleration of output, jobs or incomes, the undying myths of a sputtering, backfiring economy rise again. Today, many of those myths concern the ills of outsourcing.

The plain facts, however, lay all of today's myths about outsourcing to rest. But there is still a real danger that politicians working with incomplete or incorrect information will hobble American competitiveness. Scapegoating poor Third World countries, "Benedict Arnold CEOs" and free trade will not improve the U.S. economy or labor market, but would likely cause great harm.

Myth 1: America is losing jobs.

Fact: More Americans are employed than ever before.

The household employment survey of Americans shows that there are 1.9 million more Americans employed since the recession ended in November 2001. There are 138.3 million workers in the U.S. economy today -- more than ever before.

Myth 2: The low jobless rate excludes many discouraged workers.

Fact: Unemployment is dropping, despite a surging labor force.

Not only is the unemployment rate low in historical terms at 5.6 percent, but the work force has been growing: There are now 2.03 million more people in the labor force than in late 2001. Without a higher rate of unemployment or a shrinking work force, there is no evidence of growing discouragement.

Myth 3: Outsourcing will cause a net loss of 3.3 million jobs.

Fact: Outsourcing has little net impact, and represents less than 1 percent of gross job turnover.

Over the past decade, America has lost an average of 7.71 million jobs every quarter. The most alarmist prediction of jobs lost to outsourcing, by Forrester Research, estimates that 3.3 million service jobs will be outsourced between 2000 and 2015 -- an average of 55,000 jobs outsourced per quarter, or only 0.71 percent of all jobs lost.

Myth 4: Free trade, free labor and free capital harm the U.S. economy.

Fact: Economic freedom is necessary for economic growth, new jobs and higher living standards. A study conducted for the 2004 Index of Economic Freedom confirms a strong, positive relationship between economic freedom and per capita gross domestic product. Countries with policies antithetical to economic freedom, including trying to protect jobs of a few from outsourcing, tend to retard economic growth.

Myth 5: A job outsourced is a job lost.

Fact: Outsourcing is a means of getting more final output with lower cost inputs, which leads to lower prices for all U.S. firms and families. Lower prices lead directly to higher standards of living and more jobs in a growing economy.

Myth 6: Outsourcing is a one-way street.

Fact: Outsourcing works both ways. The number of jobs coming from other countries to the United States (jobs "insourced") is growing at a faster rate than jobs lost overseas. According to the Organization for International Investment, the numbers of manufacturing jobs insourced to the United States grew by 82 percent, while the number outsourced overseas grew by only 23 percent. Moreover, these insourced jobs are often higher paying than those outsourced.

Myth 7: American manufacturing jobs are moving to poor nations, especially China.

Fact: Nations are losing manufacturing jobs worldwide, even China.

America is not alone in experiencing declines in manufacturing jobs. U.S. manufacturing employment declined 11 percent between 1995 and 2002, which is identical to the average world decline. China has seen a sharper decline, losing 15 percent of its industrial jobs over the same period.

Myth 8: Only greedy corporations benefit from outsourcing.

Fact: Everyone benefits from outsourcing. Outsourcing is about efficiency. As costs decline, every consumer benefits, including those who lose their jobs to outsourcing. A 2003 study by Michael W. Klein, Scott Schuh and Robert K. Triest, which includes dislocation costs in its calculations, shows the benefits of trade outweighing its costs by 100 percent.

Myth 9: The government can protect American workers from outsourcing.

Fact: Protectionism is isolationism and has a history of failure.

Proposals to punish businesses that outsource jobs, institute tariffs or change tax rules will carry unintended consequences if enacted. Such measures would injure U.S. firms that export goods and services and erode U.S. competitiveness, often in unexpected ways.

America's workers deserve a more informative, less partisan debate on outsourcing. The negative impact of outsourcing on the economy and American employment has been greatly exaggerated, and the benefits of outsourcing almost entirely ignored.

Kane is research fellow at the Center for Data Analysis; Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow at the Center for International Trade and Economics; and Alison Acosta Fraser is director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Alison Acosta Fraser Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs
Domestic and Economic Policy

Tim Kane, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow
Center for Trade and Economics (CTE)

Brett D. Schaefer Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in IndyStar.com