With jobs czar under fire, new data confirm offshoring trend

Zachary Roth
Senior National Affairs Reporter
The Lookout

In January, the White House appointed Jeff Immelt (pictured), the CEO of GE, as its "jobs czar," charged with finding solutions to America's unemployment crisis. Three months later, despite some positive signs, employment rates have barely budged, Americans are more pessimistic about the economy than they've been in a while--and Immelt is under fire amid news that GE reportedly paid no taxes this year.

And some new jobs data may not help things. The Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.) that during the last decade U.S. multinationals reduced their domestic workforce by 2.9 million, according to Commerce Department figures. During the same period, those same companies increased their overseas workforce by 2.4 million. (Here's a chart that nicely lays it out.) As recently as the 1990s, things were different: Multinationals were adding jobs both domestically and overseas.

Worse, Immelt's own company may be a case study for the shift. As we've reported, the number of workers employed by GE in the United States fell from around 162,000 in 2000 to 134,000 in 2009.

When President Obama named Immelt to chair the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, he said the GE leader "understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy."

But some observers have expressed frustration at what they see as the White House's complacency on jobs. Last month, Christina Romer, the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, publicly slammed the Obama administration for what she called "shameful" inaction.

A coalition of progressive groups led by Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator from Wisconsin, recently seized on the news of no taxes from GE to launch a campaign aimed at ousting Immelt from the jobs czar post.

U.S. multinationals are a crucial player in the economy. They employ about 20 percent of all American workers, and, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, account for 23 percent of the country's private-sector output. Since they're more exposed to global trends, they often point the way toward where the economy is going.

(Rajesh Nirgude/AP)