How Outsourcing Jobs Affects the U.S. Economy

What you need to know about outsourcing jobs

Job outsourcing occurs when U.S. companies hire foreign workers instead of Americans. In 2019, U.S. overseas affiliates employed 14.6 million workers. Four industries that are often affected are technology, call centers, human resources, and manufacturing. 

How Job Outsourcing Affects the Economy

Job outsourcing helps U.S. companies be more competitive in the global marketplace. It allows them to sell to foreign markets with overseas branches. They keep labor costs low by hiring in emerging markets with lower standards of living. That lowers prices on the goods they ship back to the United States.

The main negative effect of outsourcing is it increases U.S. unemployment. Outsourced jobs are often more than the number of unemployed Americans. If all those jobs were to return, it would be enough to hire millions who are working part-time but would prefer full-time positions.

That assumes the jobs could, of course, return successfully to the United States. Many foreign employees are hired to help with local marketing, contacts, and language. It also assumes the unemployed here have the skills needed for those positions. Would American workers be willing to accept the low wages paid to foreign employees? If not, American consumers would be forced to pay higher prices.

Imposing laws to artificially restrict job outsourcing could make U.S. companies less competitive. If they are forced to hire expensive U.S. workers, they would raise prices and increase costs for consumers.

The pressure to outsource might lead some companies to even move their whole operation, including headquarters, overseas. Others might not be able to compete with higher costs and would be forced out of business. 

Technology Outsourcing

Indian business people working on office
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American companies send IT jobs to India and China because the skills are similar while the wages are much lower. Companies in Silicon Valley outsource tech jobs by offering H-1b visas to foreign-born workers.  

Call Center Outsourcing

Call center firms now hire U.S. workers in their homes
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In the past 20 years, many call centers have been outsourced to India and the Philippines. That's because the workers there speak English. But that trend is changing. Unlike technology outsourcing, there is a much smaller wage discrepancy between call center workers in the U.S. and emerging markets.

Human Resources Outsourcing

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Human resources outsourcing reduces costs by pooling thousands of businesses. This lowers the price of health benefit plans, retirement plans, workers’ compensation insurance, and legal expertise. Human resource outsourcing particularly benefits small businesses by offering a wider range of benefits. Surprisingly, the recession may cause some human resource outsourcing firms to hire American workers.

NAFTA Job Losses

People standing in line at Job and Training Fair
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President Reagan envisioned NAFTA to help North America compete with the European Union. Unfortunately, it also sent around 850,000 jobs to Mexico. California, New York, Michigan, Texas, and Ohio were the most impacted states. At the same time, however, NAFTA did succeed in lowering prices on many products for American consumers and boosted exports to Canada and Mexico.

Jobs in Mexico

Auto assembly line, Mexico City, Mexico
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Mexico is now the seventh-largest auto manufacturer in the world. But did that growth come at the expense of U.S. auto workers? Or is something else the real reason? The truth is Mexico currently maintains 11 free trade agreements with 46 different countries.

India Attracting U.S. Companies

Emerging market commuter train
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India has three qualities that attract American companies. First, the labor force already speaks English. Second, its universities are among the highest-ranked in the world. Third, its legal system is similar to the U.S.

Jobs in China

Worker operating drill machinery in manufacturing plant
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China is the world's largest exporter. But a lot of China's so-called "exports" are really for American companies. A lot of U.S. companies ship raw materials over, and the final goods are shipped back. One reason is that U.S. companies can only afford to sell products to China’s 1.4 billion people if they manufacture there.

Perhaps the U.S. should do the same thing. Imagine if all our imported products were partly manufactured in America? Other foreign companies should be required to follow the lead of Japanese automakers, who already do this. Of course, if the United States did that, it would mean higher prices for consumers. U.S. workers need a higher salary to pay for a better standard of living.

Robots

Robots
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Workers in many manufacturing industries have been replaced by robots. To get new jobs, workers need training to operate the robots.

Innovations in technology are what actually allowed U.S. companies to move call centers to India. If technology is the culprit, it is also the answer. It's made the U.S. more competitive as a nation. Education, rather than protectionism, is the best way to both take advantage of technology and create jobs for U.S. workers.

Underpaid Workers

fast food workers
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In 2020, there were 37.2 million people living in poverty in the U.S. Meanwhile, the top 10% of workers earned more than nine times the income that the bottom 90% of workers earn.

Rise in the Freelance Economy

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The freelance economy means that companies are laying off full-time—often older—workers and replacing them with part-timers, temp help, ​and freelance workers. It makes it easier to outsource jobs to workers who are not full-time.

The Bottom Line

The phenomenon of job outsourcing in the United States provokes great economic contention. On one hand, this prevalent practice lowers costs for U.S. companies, enables global competitiveness, and allows them to provide reasonably-priced goods and services. The benefits also extend to countries on the outsourced end, many of which have grown their economies through U.S. outsourcing. On the other, it has hurt employment, raising the unemployment rate particularly in these hardest-hit sectors:

  • Manufacturing
  • Technology
  • Call centers
  • Human Resources

Outsourcing may not be the biggest threat to unemployment though. Technological growth in automated intelligence could very well replace many human jobs, enormously impacting the U.S. job market in the eminently near future.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are foreign jobs ever outsourced to the U.S.?

Although U.S. outsourcing has risen, foreign companies do outsource jobs to the U.S., too. Some experts refer to this as "insourcing." About 7.8 million jobs in the U.S. are held by Americans who are working for foreign companies.

How do foreign countries benefit from U.S. jobs being outsourced to them?

Some countries have built strong economies based on outsourcing. This has led to investment in these countries, an improved standard of living for the outsourced workers, and the countries becoming part of the global economy, which could benefit the U.S. in the long term.

What are some U.S. companies that outsource jobs overseas?

Apple, IBM, Nike, Google, American Express, and Pfizer are few of the U.S. companies that outsource jobs to overseas employees.

Article Sources

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  7. U.S. Census Bureau. "China." Accessed Jan. 31, 2022.

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