WASHINGTON -- After the Washington Post published a story last week detailing how Bain Capital investments may have helped send American jobs overseas, the Mitt Romney campaign tried to draw the very legitimate distinction between "offshoring" and "outsourcing" in the modern American economy.
On Friday, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul quickly criticized the Post for not adequately defining the two trends. "This is a fundamentally flawed story that does not differentiate between domestic outsourcing versus offshoring," Saul said.
On Sunday, Romney campaign strategist Eric Fehrnstrom advanced the outsourcing versus offshoring distinction, providing perfectly adequate definitions of both phenomenons. "There’s a very simple difference between outsourcing and offshoring,” Fehrnstrom said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "[Outsourcing] is done by companies every day. They take functions and they allow vendors to do it rather than handling it in-house. Offshoring is the shipment of American jobs overseas."
But to distance Romney from offshoring, Fehrnstrom ends up giving implicit approval to domestic outsourcing. It's an unfortunate political position to be in, particularly during a campaign that's not just about American jobs but the quality of American jobs. Outsourcing may not eliminate jobs the way offshoring does, and the Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on its stance on domestic outsourcing. But in many industries, outsourcing ultimately leads to lower wages, fewer benefits and less job security for the same position.
Take the American warehouse industry. As HuffPost reported last year, much of the retail supply chain is now predicated upon a system of outsourcing, whereby retailers hire third-party "logistics" providers, many of whom in turn hire labor agencies, who in turn hire temporary workers -- the sort of vendor-based system Fehrnstrom spoke of. This outsourcing reduces costs for companies at the top of the chain, who don't have to worry about hiring employees directly and paying decent wages, no doubt helping keep prices down for consumers. But there's a price to be paid by workers on the bottom rung. Many of them end up working on a temp basis for around minimum wage with no benefits and no guarantee of a job the following week.
"It seems to be spreading like wildfire," Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor of American labor history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told HuffPost last year. "All of these companies, wherever they possibly can, they want to create a workforce that doesn't work for them."
That's to say nothing of the public-sector outsourcing gripping budget-strapped states and municipalities these days. In Michigan, for instance, state-run veterans' nursing homes have turned to private contract workers to save money; the workers earn about half of what their government counterparts earn, while the state's savings have turned out to be questionable. In New Jersey, the state has outsourced a good deal of its corrections duties to privately run halfway houses, as the New York Times recently reported. Wages at the facilities are low while the number of inmate escapes are high.
Of course, many Americans may not have personally witnessed the downsides of outsourcing, particularly if it hasn't hit their fields. Perhaps that's what the Romney campaign is banking on -- outsourcing certainly seems a lot less pernicious than offshoring. But the distinction doesn't mollify the Communications Workers of America, one of the unions that pounced on Romney last week when the Post story was published. Many of the jobs traditionally held by that union's members -- tech support, customer service -- have been offshored as well as domestically outsourced, going to other U.S. companies that do it cheaper, in part by paying workers less.
"Outsourcing isn't a great thing, either," said Candice Johnson, a CWA spokeswoman. "It often means jobs get sent somewhere else in the U.S., where the workers get less pay and no benefits, and maybe they're even classified as an independent contractor so they don't get labor protections. It's another industry trend that might help companies and CEO's, but it doesn't help workers."
Below, listen along to some of Romney's greatest hits:
With A Little Help From My Friends (Joe Cocker)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/mitt-romney-will-not-repu_n_1551540.html" target="_hplink">(May 28, 2012) --</a></strong> Despite a resurgence of <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/mitt-romney-s-new-bff-donald-trump.html" target="_hplink">Donald Trump's birther claims</a>, Romney refused to repudiate the billionaire, who has been helping with his 2012 campaign efforts. "You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me ... I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney said. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Who Let The Dogs Out (Baha Men)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/16/mitt-romney-seamus_n_1429925.html" target="_hplink">(April 16, 2012) -- </a></strong> In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Romney discussed the political fallout over strapping his dog Seamus to a car roof. He admits that he probably would not do it again. (Handout)
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (R.E.M.)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/mitt-romney-medicare-president-obama_n_1403267.html" target="_hplink">WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 4, 2012) --</a></strong> Speaking before the Newspaper Association of America, Romney attacked Barack Obama on his health record, claiming the president "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
For The Love Of Money (The O'Jays)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/mitt-romney-i-made-a-lot-of-money_n_1345516.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 14, 2012) -- </strong></a> Romney became testy on Fox News while discussing his appeal to lower-income voters. On the same day, Occupy Wall Street protesters staged a demonstration outside Mitt's Waldorf Astoria hotel fundraiser. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/mitt-romney-south_n_1334478.html" target="_hplink">PASCAGOULA, Miss. (March 9, 2012) --</a></strong> While on the trail in Alabama and Mississippi, Romney got in touch with his Southern side, learning how to say "y'all" and liking his grits. With those new experiences in hand, he admitted that "strange things are happening to me." (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/mitt-romney-cadillac_n_1299740.html" target="_hplink"><strong>DETROIT, Mich. (Feb. 24, 2012) -- </strong></a> While speaking before the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field, Romney listed not two, not three, but four American-made cars that he and his wife, Ann, owned. Among the vehicles: "a couple of Cadillacs." (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It's The Hard-Knock Life (Annie & The Orphans)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/01/mitt-romney-very-poor_n_1246557.html" target="_hplink">TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2012) --</a></strong> In an interview with CNN, Romney noted that he is "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net for that segment of the populace. (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
America The Beautiful
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/31/mitt-romney-america-the-beautiful-_n_1243908.html" target="_hplink"><strong>THE VILLAGES, Fla. (Jan. 31, 2012) --</strong></a> On the eve of Florida's primary, Romney led his supporters in a singing of the patriotic song. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Successful (Drake, Lil Wayne)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/mitt-romney-tax-returns_n_1217708.html" target="_hplink"> <strong>CHARLESTON, S.C. (Jan. 19, 2012) -- </strong></a> During CNN's GOP debate, Romney refused to commit to disclosing his tax returns, offering no apologies for his success. (Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Bye Bye Bye ('N Sync)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/mitt-romney-i-like-being-able-to-fire-people_n_1194115.html" target="_hplink"><strong>NASHUA, N.H. (Jan. 9, 2012) -- </strong></a> In a speech about insurance options, Romney tells audience members, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." (Photo:AP/Charles Dharapak)
Don't Know Why (Norah Jones)
<strong><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/28/mitt-romney-embraces-climate-change-denial_n_1063905.html" target="_hplink">PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Oct. 27, 2011) --</a></strong> Back in June 2011, Romney said humans are somewhat tied to climate change. By October, he had reversed course, saying "We don't know what causes climate change." (Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)