As the debate over the offshoring of American jobs intensifies, experts on all sides of the issue are complaining about the lack of relevant data. The U.S. government does not currently track the number of jobs lost to offshoring (neither the Bureau of Economic Analysis nor the Bureau of Labor Statistics collect these data, although many have suggested they should). Until the government starts monitoring these numbers, the only relevant statistics for offshoring discussions are estimates provided by universities and private research groups.
Current offshoring job-loss estimates vary and don't tell the whole story. Various researchers have tried to determine how many jobs have been lost to offshoring. Goldman Sachs believes 300,000 – 500,000 jobs have been offshored over the last three years. Business Week came up with a similar estimate (400,000-500,000). In October 2003, Mark Zandi of Economy.com estimated 995,000 jobs had gone overseas since the beginning of the recession in March 2001. It is important to note that these numbers are gross job loss figures and thus do not represent jobs that may have been regained. Because of the lack of reliable data, it is difficult to substantiate any of these estimates.
Current offshoring job-loss estimates do not represent a large portion of the labor market. Current offshoring job loss estimates do not represent a large portion of the labor market. The Goldman Sachs figure, for example, accounts for only 0.1 percent of United States employment. Last year alone the United States had a gross 32 million job loss. Even compared to the net job loss of 5 to 9 million jobs over the past three years, job losses due to offshoring only explain between 3 to 10 percent of the missing jobs in this recovery.
The potential for job loss in the long-term is significant, but difficult to quantify. Of even more concern than the number of jobs already lost to offshoring is the potential number of jobs the United States could lose in the future. These projections vary widely. Forrester Research recently raised its frequently cited prediction that 3.3 million jobs will move offshore in the next 15 years and drastically increased the number of white-collar jobs it expects to move offshore by 2005. Goldman Sachs believes up to 6 million jobs could move offshore over the next 10 years. A University of California – Berkeley study goes even further, arguing that 14.1 million jobs are "vulnerable" to offshoring.
However, these studies are only estimates of job losses – they do not include the potential jobs gains. For example, from 1993-2000 the U.S. economy lost an average of 30.3 million jobs per year. But it gained an average of 32.9 million a year during that same time period. Offshoring, like other economic phenomena, is not necessarily a zero-sum game where one job lost in the United States is automatically one job gained overseas. New jobs will be created, and the United States must prepare for the economy that will create them.