U.S. Multinational Activity Abroad and U.S. Jobs: Substitutes or Complements?

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Management Papers
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Business Administration, Management, and Operations
International Business
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Harrison, Ann E
McMillan, Margaret S
Null, Clair

Critics of globalization claim that firms are being driven by the prospects of cheaper labor and lower labor standards to shift employment abroad. Yet the evidence, beyond anecdotes, is slim. This paper reports stylized facts on the activities of U.S. multinationals at home and abroad for the years 1977 to 1999. We focus on firms in manufacturing and services, two sectors that have received extensive media attention for supposedly exporting jobs. Using firm-level data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) in Washington, D.C., we report correlations between U.S. multinational employment at home and abroad. Preliminary evidence based on the operations of these multinationals suggests that the sign of the correlation depends on the crucial distinction between affiliates in high-income and low-income countries. For affiliates in high-income countries there is a positive correlation between jobs at home and abroad, suggesting that foreign employment of U.S. multinationals is complementary to domestic employment. For firms that operate in developing countries, employment has been cut in the United States, and affiliate employment has increased. To account for firm size, substitution across firms and entry and exit, we aggregate our data to the industry level. This exercise reveals that the observed “complementarity” between U.S. and foreign jobs has been driven largely by a contraction across all manufacturing sectors. It also reveals that foreign employment in developing countries has substituted for U.S. employment in several highly visible industries, including computers, electronics, and transportation. The fact that there were U.S. jobs lost to foreign affiliates in key sectors, despite broad complementarity in hiring and firing decisions between U.S. parents and their affiliates, helps explain why economists view the impact of globalization on U.S. jobs as benign despite negative news coverage for declining industries.

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Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society
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