Lack Of Transparency On Overseas Jobs Data

Major U.S. companies are asking for tax breaks in order, they say, to create more jobs. But the question remains whether they will create American jobs or move their money overseas. Steve Inskeep talks to Washington Post reporter Jialynn Yang about her recent article on the subject, and how difficult it is to find data on overseas vs. domestic hiring.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Obama has been meeting with the CEOs of major American companies to talk about jobs, ahead of his speech this week. Some corporations are asking for tax breaks to create jobs. One big question, of course, is whether they will create American jobs or move their money overseas.

Washington Post reporter Jialynn Yang asked how many jobs big American companies create, and how many they shift abroad. It is getting harder to find that very basic and politically explosive information.

Mr. JIALYNN YANG (Reporter, Washington Post): We know that as a group, they've cut back how many Americans they employ over the last 10 years. And then they've shifted jobs overseas.

INSKEEP: Hmm.

Mr. YANG: And for years, people have told us well, this is part of globalization; we just have to open up - you know, just hang tight, everyone. This is what we have to do to get to a stronger economy in the long run. But there's no question that as a group, U.S. workers have fallen behind. Their wages are down. You know, the picture is bleak.

INSKEEP: The concern here is that if you come up with some tax break that really does create 10 jobs - and of course, there's always the question about whether tax breaks really create jobs; well, let's say it does - the concern is that maybe there's only two American jobs along with three Indian jobs and five Chinese jobs? That's basically what you're saying?

Mr. YANG: Yeah. We should have at least a basic sense of where the jobs are created. And the only way to know - on a firm level, at least - is for the companies to disclose it.

NSKEEP: OK. So you went and asked. Where are these companies creating jobs?

Mr. YANG: Well, GE for instance, you know, they disclose the numbers. But over the last several years, you've seen that they've shifted jobs overseas, too. So where they used to have majority of their workers here, now majority are overseas. And even then, we don't even know on a country level, necessarily. So when you say, are they in India? Well, a lot of companies, even if they do say, you know, here - how many workers we have in the U.S. versus overseas, they don't break out by country. So we don't actually know with a lot of detail where, actually, the jobs are going.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute. You've told me two things there. First, you've said General Electric - great American manufacturer - now employs more people outside of America that inside America.

Mr. YANG: Yeah.

INSKEEP: That's the first thing you're saying. Other than GE, did you have trouble figuring out where people were putting their workers?

Mr. YANG: I'd say, you know, more than half do disclose how many workers they have in the U.S. versus overseas. But then several companies just gloss over it altogether. They just say we have, you know, 80,000 employees worldwide. And with those companies, I would follow up. Procter & Gamble, the company that makes Tide and all these consumer products, they were interesting. I emailed them and they said, you know, we actually don't track this number at all. And then I went back and found an Op-ed that their CEO had written not so long ago in the Cincinnati Enquirer with that number. And I went back and said well, I see this number has been out there. Is this the number? And they said well, yes, it is. And...

INSKEEP: So what they mean by, we don't track it, is we only use these numbers when they seemed beneficial to us. Otherwise, we say we don't know. That's what actually, they meant by that.

Mr. YANG: Or, we're just better off not saying it.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Mr. YANG: If no one's going to require us to do it, if it's not legally required, if we don't have shareholders bugging us for the number, why give it out? And with P&G, it turns out, they have, you know, their workforce is now -less than 30 percent of the workforce is in the U.S.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Are there companies that used to track how many workers they had in the U.S. versus overseas, who've stopped giving that information out?

Mr. YANG: Yes, I find at least two companies - Pfizer, which used to give it out until 2000, and then for whatever reason just stopped. And then IBM is this interesting case, where up until very recently, until 2009, they were breaking out the head count. And up until 2009, the company was pretty dramatically moving workers to India. And so in 2009, they estimate that's actually the first year, probably, that IBM had more employees in India versus the U.S. And so we can only speculate why a company stops giving out the number. But it's just a coincidence, maybe, that same year they stopped giving out the number, same year they have more workers in India versus the U.S.

INSKEEP: So how should this inform the political debate now about trying to create jobs in the United States?

Mr. YANG: I think it's a way of asking, you know, how are we checking that companies actually create jobs when they lobby for policies that are supposed to do just that? And beyond that, it's a matter of understanding the dynamic now of how U.S. companies, and their health and their operations, affect the rest of the country because the more a global company can expand overseas and hire wherever they want, their connection with the U.S. economy just becomes - if not more disconnected, then certainly more complicated. And so these numbers help us understand what that relationship actually looks like. And without them, you know, I think policymakers potentially - and a lot of people are saying, they risk flying blind when they're changing these policies.

INSKEEP: Jialynn Yang reports for the Washington Post. Thanks very much.

Mr. YANG: Thanks for having me.

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