Outsourcing Jobs? Multinationals and US Employment

Ann E. Harrison, Margaret S. McMillan

NBER Working Paper No. 12372
Issued in July 2006, Revised in October 2007
NBER Program(s):International Trade and Investment, Labor Studies

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12372

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