How Many More Jobs Might Move Offshore?

Students at Harvard Business School have just completed a survey that indicates many of them might be developing skills that can be done cheaper offshore. Their study indicates that from 21% to 42% of U.S. jobs are potentially offshorable, or put another way 25.2 million to 31.8 million jobs could vanish.

We aren’t talking about call centers and other low skill jobs either. The study suggests that the many white collar jobs like reading radiology films or consulting may be targets for movement to lower wage countries. In an era of squeezed profit margins and intense competition, survival may well indeed rest on this sort of job transfer.

The implications of the study, assuming it is even half correct, are enormous. Politically the loss of jobs on this scale would probably be unacceptable but any efforts to thwart such a move would be equally dangerous. If the U.S. emerges from the current recession into another jobless expansion, any movement of a significant number of jobs overseas would likely be met with stiff resistance.

Here is a thought from left field. Could such a threat reverse the fortunes of the American labor movement? I’m not sure that unions in this country are savvy enough or have the right leadership in place to appeal to threatened white collar workers. However, if they could get their act together they might find fertile ground for new membership. Nothing chills one’s belief in free markets so much as the prospect of unemployment.

I know that there are a lot more things to worry about right now but don’t be surprised if this one sneaks up on the country. In the meantime, if you are counseling your kids about careers don’t forget to consider the possibility that someone somewhere else might be able to do that dream job cheaper. 

Here’s hoping that India develops a robust group of young lawyers.


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