American Workers Bid Adios as Jobs Go South
Impact of freer trade is softened by US federal aid and retraining program
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Such job-shifting began long before NAFTA, which can be seen as simply the codification of a trend.Skip to next paragraph
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``We used to produce a finished good here,'' Yeubanks says. In 1991, Zenith laid off about 1,500 people as the company shifted television assembly to Mexico, leaving the present force to mold plastic TV cabinets.
The recent devaluation of the Mexican peso promises to make exports from Mexico to the US even cheaper. That could accelerate the trend to shift jobs south.
Lewis and his wife Teresa shake their heads at the growing prosperity rift in America between ``knowledge workers,'' who thrive on global trade, and low-skilled workers whose wages are dragged down in part by developing-country competition.
Their own planning, plus the NAFTA-TAA assistance, puts them on a path to enter the higher-wage sector. The couple hopes eventually to be self-employed and raise children.
Other former Nintendo workers are also using federal aid, including career counseling, to target more promising occupations.
Rich Terry now has retrained and gotten a job as a computer technician. Karin Wilson will soon be a licensed massage therapist.
``A lot of people ... had aspirations to get the heck out of there,'' Mr. Lewis says of the work at Nintendo, which was repetitive and offered little opportunity for advancement.
But for some immigrant Americans, Nintendo provided a decent wage in a job that did not require English-language skills. Randy Lee, who came from China in 1979, was very disappointed when his job at Nintendo came to an end. The non-union shop offered good benefits, including health care and vacations. Like all Nintendo workers, Lee received some assistance but on his own has found an assembly job in the area.
The NAFTA aid is certified by the Labor Department on a company-by-company basis. A direct tie to NAFTA need not be proved, but some relation to competition from Mexico or Canada must be shown. Reasons could range from increased imports from rival firms to relocation of production. A decision is made within 40 days of application, which can come from the company, laid-off workers, or a union.
How many jobs NAFTA has cost or created is a point of debate. ``It will take at least five to 10 years for the full effects of the agreement to manifest themselves,'' states a report by the US Congress Joint Economic Committee.
What is clear is that many jobs, especially in apparel and labor-intensive manufacturing, are moving abroad.
A study by Harvard University's Jeffrey Sachs and Howard Shatz concludes foreign competition has been costing the US about 100,000 manufacturing jobs a year. That's nearly 40 percent of all job losses in manufacturing from 1978-90. The remaining 60 percent are lost mostly by greater efficiency. The economists say service industries could be next. Already some data-entry work has gone abroad.
Lewis does not approve of long-term welfare. But he approves of the NAFTA assistance: ``I don't think that's so much socialistic.... It's smart.
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