So we've had the big visit with Chinese leaders and the triumphant tour in Schenectady with the newly-appointed job creation czar -- General Electric's CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt. But with all the talk of trade deals and jobs last week, what's gotten scant notice is the fact that increasing U.S. trade with emerging economic powers is not only creating, but also costing American jobs.
An investigation of recent trade dealings with India by Dan Rather Reports found little evidence to support the prevailing wisdom among Washington policy makers that helping U.S. business giants drum up new customers necessarily translates into new jobs for American workers at home -- at least in the short-to-medium term.
Like China, India has been dominating the attention of America's multinationals, and many are building operations in South Asia that are nothing short of stunning. And with companies refocusing on India, good jobs once held by Americans are disappearing by the tens of thousands.
Industry estimates indicate that the U.S. lost more than 250,000 information technology jobs over the past two years. Meanwhile, the hi-tech outsourcing industry in India -- where the typical starting salary for an IT worker is less than $9,000 a year -- hired more than 850,000 people.
Bangalore, which is often called the Silicon Valley of India, is the center of the country's exploding hi-tech outsourcing industry. Driving around the sprawling city today, you see all sorts of familiar logos -- from General Motors to General Electric, Microsoft to Hewlett Packard.
Over the past three years, American companies operating in India have increased production seven-fold, according to a survey by India's IT Outsourcing industry association. The bulk of those operations, the survey found, involve research and development. We're not just creating overseas jobs at an astounding rate, we're off-shoring the innovation and the know-how that we need to lay the groundwork for the future of the American economy.
During our investigative team's work in India during November, President Obama arrived in Mumbai for his first state visit to the country. Just three days after the Democrats' historic midterm defeat, the president gave the keynote address at a summit co-hosted by a branch of the U.S Chamber of Commerce and allayed concerns among the business community that the U.S. would succumb to a protectionist panic.
"Trade between our countries is not just a one-way street of American jobs and companies moving to India," the president said. "It is a dynamic, two-way relationship that is creating jobs, growth, and higher living standards in both our countries."
To prove the point, he announced with great fanfare that the White House had helped broker a host of trade deals, billions of dollars of contracts for American companies like General Electric and Boeing. President Obama said the deals with India would "lead to more than 50,000 jobs in the United States."
But when we asked Francisco J. Sanchez --the Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade -- whether the trade agreements included any provisions requiring the American companies do the work in U.S, he said that was not how trade deals worked.
"No, there were no government requirement that they be in place," Sanchez said:
What I can tell you, though, is that those companies that sign those contracts have very substantial investments in factories, in people in the United States. And so in order to make good on the contracts that they've signed they just can't up and leave and fulfill those. So I'm pretty confident that the contracts that were signed will create American jobs.
That confidence, it seems, remains intact despite the fact that over the past decade, the U.S. has suffered from two jobless recoveries. And over that time, annual exports from India's hi-tech outsourcing business has exploded from nearly $6 billion to over $50 billion. And of course, that doesn't even count all the work American companies have off-shored to other low-wage countries -- including the big kahuna, China.
On Friday morning, when President Obama toured the GE facility in Schenectady -- where some of turbines for India are manufactured -- according to the Albany Times-Union, Immelt noted that the Capital Region of New York was the birthplace of GE and home to 7,000 employees. "I know that this team can compete with anyone," he said.
What wasn't mentioned is that 7,000 is a small percentage of the 40,000 workers that GE once had in the region. Or the fact that GE has 5,000 researchers and scientists in Bangalore and plans for new Indian manufacturing facilities in India that are slated to begin operations soon.
In 2000, GE's annual report indicated that the company had 131,000 employees in the U.S. and 92,000 across the rest of the world. By 2009, the company's U.S. headcount had increased only modestly to 134,000 while GE's foreign payroll had climbed 154,000 -- up by more than 45 percent.
When it comes to expanding trade and creating jobs, the argument from Washington, Wall Street and most economists remains, "have patience, wait and see, and you'll see that's it's all truly 'win-win.'" Maybe, but in the meantime working people across America have good reason to be skeptical.
Dan Rather Reports airs Tuesdays on HDNet at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET. This episode is also available on iTunes.
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