WASHINGTON – When she lost her job as a crane operator at a Baltimore steel plant in 1994, Vicky Bielawski’s only option was a training program that, nine months later, got her a job drawing children’s blood samples — at half her old pay.
So when the mother of two heard that Bethlehem Steel was hiring, she jumped at the chance. But six months later, the company filed for bankruptcy and she almost lost her job again.
Bielawski was one of dozens of people who rallied Friday in support of Senate proposals aimed at keeping businesses and public agencies from sending jobs overseas or opening plants or offices offshore.
In Bielawski’s case it was cheaper foreign steel that she believes cost threatened her livelihood. She believes government policy that encourages American businesses to outsource work overseas or completely move to other countries for cheaper labor force and products is driving up unemployment here.
Democrats, who sponsored the legislation discussed Friday, blamed that foreign outsourcing for the slow U.S. job growth experienced in the last years.
“Jobs are fleeing our country and the administration is driving the getaway car,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Lee Price, research director in the Economic Policy Institute, said the bulk of lost jobs in the nation cannot be blamed on outsourcing only but that “a substantial part” of the U.S. unemployment situation can be attributed to outsourcing overseas. He said some countries have seen billions of dollars worth of employment flow in from the United States.
But William Dickens, a trade and employment expert at the Brookings Institution, said claims that outsourcing is the main cause of U.S. unemployment “are rubbish.”
“There are some people who have been scapegoating with outsourcing for problems in the labor market that are entirely domestic,” Dickens said.
He said unemployment is typically caused by a recession and that outsourcing overseas does not account for more than 4 percent of the overall loss of jobs here.
The Cato Institute’s Dan Griswold noted that the world buys a lot more technology from the United States than this country spends on imports from other nations. Griswold said legislation against outsourcing would make American “companies less competitive in global markets” and “invite foreign retaliation, to squander dollars and to jeopardize well-paying” jobs.
Herman Daly, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, said Friday that free trade is inevitable but that it can also be harmful. Corporations cannot expect unemployed workers back home, or workers who are earning half what they used to, to buy their products.
The Senate proposals would prohibit government financial aid to companies that do not protect local jobs and to states that send work off shore; eliminate a federal tax subsidy that lets companies defer taxes on profits offshore until the profits enter the United States; and require companies that “export jobs” to give employees a three-month notice, report the number of lost jobs, where they are going and why.
These initiatives come as employment rates continue to stagnate and shortly after Bush administration officials voiced support for hiring people in other countries, saying “the ability of firms to distribute their production around the world has cut costs and thus prices for consumers.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that most of the 21,000 new jobs reported in February were government jobs, with private-sector employment showing practically no growth. The national unemployment rate remained at 5.6 percent in February.
The news is little comfort to Bielawski.
“My daughter was studying accounting for three years but we heard from a friend who lost her job to someone in India, after 20 years of working in that,” Bielawski said, adding that her daughter has since “changed to be a nurse.”
-30- CNS 03-05-04