Why We Need a Debate About Outsourcing

by Phil Stott | October 10, 2016

  • My Vault

By now, you've probably heard everything you could possibly want to about the election—unless of, course, you're hoping to hear anything about policy. Somewhere amidst all of the accusations and jail threats and leaked emails and audio recordings, there's a debate that should be about the future direction of the US as a country.

A large section of that "would be nice to have" debate would surely center around jobs, and the economy, and the relative merits of concepts like wage and employment growth, or the extent to which outsourcing helps and/or hurts us overall.

Does that sound less exciting than the slow motion car crash currently masquerading as a presidential election? Sure. But that doesn't make it unimportant. As this chart from Statista shows, fully 80 percent of US adults polled in a recent Pew survey feel that increased outsourcing of jobs hurts American workers—and almost as many feel that importing foreign products is an equal threat. Those are numbers that suggest a level of agreement among voters that isn’t found on almost any other topic.

Infographic: Outsourcing Viewed As The Top Threat To U.S. Jobs | Statista
 

Given the fact that we're currently in an employees' market, with real wages rising as employers have to compete for talent, the level of concern over outsourcing seems like something of an anomaly. Consider the following basic facts:

  • Last month, there were almost 8 million unemployed people in the US—this is close to the approximate portion of the workforce that is considered by most economists to represent full employment.
  • Last year, almost 2.4 million US jobs were outsourced overseas.

The bottom line: if those jobs had stayed in the US, employers would have struggled to fill them. On the one hand, this would likely have resulted in slightly faster wage growth. But, on the other, it could also have slowed the overall expansion of the economy by limiting companies' ability to grow, while simultaneously hurting sectors like transportation.

At this point in the campaign, it doesn't seem likely that we're going to get much in the way of nuanced discussion that would amount to anything like a proposed solution or a defense of the status quo. But, given the lack of attention paid to the subjects in the debates so far, and the seeming gap in terms of basic perceptions of outsourcing's role in the economy, it's a conversation that we should definitely be having. 

Filed Under: Consulting | Job Search | Workplace Issues

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