NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Why are American Workers getting Poorer? China, Trade and Offshoring

Avraham Ebenstein, Ann Harrison, Margaret McMillan

NBER Working Paper No. 21027
Issued in March 2015
NBER Program(s):ITI

We suggest that the impact of globalization on wages has been missed because its effects must be captured by analyzing occupational exposure to globalization. In this paper, we extend our previous work to include recent years (2003-2008), a period of increasing import penetration, China’s entry into the WTO, and growing US multinational employment abroad. We find significant effects of globalization, with offshoring to low wage countries and imports both associated with wage declines for US workers. We present evidence that globalization has led to the reallocation of workers away from high wage manufacturing jobs into other sectors and other occupations, with large declines in wages among workers who switch, explaining the large differences between industry and occupational analyses. While other research has focused primarily on China’s trade, we find that offshoring to China has also contributed to wage declines among US workers. However, the role of trade is quantitatively much more important. We also explore the impact of trade and offshoring on labor force participation rates. While offshoring to China has a negative impact on US labor force participation, other factors such as increasing computer use and substitution of capital for labor are significantly more important determinants of US employment rates across occupations.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21027

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