Monday, November 22, 2004

Surveying outsourcing, getting it wrong 

Not only was the whole debate over outsourcing misunderstood theoretically, it turns out it was misestimated empirically too. If you are not a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, see if you can find this article on outsourcing.

The U.S. government's attempt to count workers who lose their jobs when employers "outsource" work overseas has suffered a setback: Too many employers say they just don't know the numbers.

The U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, which began tracking such job losses in January, has tried to coax the information from senior executives of companies that have laid off more than 50 people. It even sent in psychologists to reinterview some of the personnel officers who answered a BLS questionnaire, theorizing its questions were misunderstood.

But the answer to the question -- a matter of interest in the 2004 presidential campaign -- remained "don't know." The BLS, as a result, hasn't been able to produce a count.

In its latest report, published last week, the BLS could say only that 16,091 workers were laid off because of job relocations in the third quarter. It couldn't say how many jobs had shifted within the U.S. or were shipped overseas.

In 13 of the 95 cases involving job relocations during the third quarter, "the employer could not say anything beyond, 'I laid off 100 people in this layoff. I did move work, but I can't tell you how many of these 100 were due to the movement of work to X, Y and Z,' " says Lewis Siegel, who directs the BLS's mass-layoffs statistics program. The bureau concluded that that proportion was too high to provide a "meaningful" count.

I believe this is the first quarter report and this the report where they gave up. I've asked another blogger who works for BLS to check for me on this one. I'll see post what she has on this.