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Outsourcing Jobs? Multinationals and US Employment

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  • Ann E. Harrison
  • Margaret S. McMillan

Abstract

Critics of globalization claim that US manufacturing firms are being driven to shift employment abroad by the prospects of cheaper labor. Others argue that the availability of low-wage labor has allowed US based firms to survive and even prosper. Yet evidence for either hypothesis, beyond anecdotes, is slim. Using firm-level data collected by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), we estimate the impact on US manufacturing employment of changes in foreign affiliate wages, controlling for changing demand conditions and technological change. We find that the evidence supports both perspectives on globalization. For firms most likely to perform the same tasks in foreign affiliates and at home ("horizontal" foreign investment), foreign and domestic employees appear to be substitutes. For these firms, lower wages in affiliate locations are associated with lower employment in the US. However, for firms which do significantly different tasks at home and abroad ("vertical" foreign investment), foreign and domestic employment are complements. For vertical foreign investment, lower wages abroad are associated with higher US manufacturing employment. These offsetting effects may be combined to show that offshoring is associated with a quantitatively small decline in manufacturing employment. Other factors, such as declining prices for consumer goods, import competition, and falling prices for investment goods (which substitute for labor) play a more important role.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12372.

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Date of creation: Jul 2006
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12372

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  1. Andrew Bernard & J. Bradford Jensen & Peter Schott, 2003. "Survival of the best fit: exposure to low-wage countries and the (uneven) growth of US manufacturing plants," IFS Working Papers W03/12, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  2. David H. Autor & Frank Levy & Richard J. Murnane, 2003. "The Skill Content Of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1279-1333, November.
  3. Katz, L.F. & Murphy, K.M., 1991. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963-1987: Supply and Demand Factors," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1580, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  4. George J. Borjas & Richard B. Friedman & Lawrence F. Katz, 1997. "How Much Do Immigration and Trade Affect Labor Market Outcomes?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1), pages 1-90.
  5. Marc J. Melitz, 2003. "The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(6), pages 1695-1725, November.
  6. Marc-Andreas Muendler & Sascha O. Becker, 2006. "Margins of Multinational Labor Substitution," CESifo Working Paper Series 1713, CESifo Group Munich.
  7. David A. Riker & S. Lael Brainard, 1997. "U.S. Multinationals and Competition from Low Wage Countries," NBER Working Papers 5959, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. N. Gregory Mankiw & Phillip Swagel, 2006. "The Politics and Economics of Offshore Outsourcing," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 2120, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  9. Mihir A. Desai & C. Fritz Foley & James R. Hines Jr., 2005. "Foreign Direct Investment and Domestic Economic Activity," NBER Working Papers 11717, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. James R. Markusen & Keith E. Maskus, 2001. "General-Equilibrium Approaches to the Multinational Firm: A Review of Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 8334, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Revenga, Ana L, 1992. "Exporting Jobs? The Impact of Import Competition on Employment and Wages in U.S. Manufacturing," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 255-84, February.
  12. Gene M. Grossman & Esteban Rossi-Hansberg, 2008. "Trading Tasks: A Simple Theory of Offshoring," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1978-97, December.
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