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Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 11:47 am

Exporting jobs, importing workers

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Some Chinese workers are being imported to work on the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.
Maybe you’re one of the thousands of young lawyers in America working in some low-skill, part-time job because law firms have cut so many of the starting positions you were educated to take. If so, I have good news: Jobs for young lawyers are now mushrooming in companies that provide legal services to U.S. corporations.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to move to India to get one. And the pay will be — how shall I put this? — “disappointing.”

 Lawyering has become the latest category of good jobs disappearing from our Land of the Free, as corporate chieftains continue to offshore the American workplace. The average student loan debt for a recent law school graduate is upward of $100,000, and now law school grads are finding that jobs are scarce — especially since Wall Street banks, insurance corporations, mining giants and others are shipping more and more of their law business to Pangea3, CPA Global, UnitedLex and other rapidly expanding legal outsourcing outfits in India.

In the past five years, the number of these upstart firms has more than tripled, with each one offering from a few dozen to hundreds of young Indian law school graduates. These eager legal beagles are hunkered down in corporate cubicles, ready to write contracts, review legal documents and — increasingly — to handle the more sophisticated chores of case management and regulatory filings that corporations have been entrusting to more experienced American lawyers.

Even though U.S. corporations have amassed record levels of profits and cash reserves, they are offshoring their legal work simply because it puts even more money in their pockets. They can pay Indian lawyers as little as a tenth of what they’d pay young American attorneys — and the 90 percent wage difference goes to the corporation, rather than being spread through our economy as family incomes.

It’s another move by the corporate elite to separate their expanding fortunes from the well being of America’s middle class — and from the well being of America itself.

But what about work that needs to be done here? I mean, physically, here, in the good ol’ U.S.A.

At last Obama is getting serious about America’s jobs crisis. Last week, he proposed a $50 billion effort that would put Americans to work repairing our national infrastructure. Of course, congressional Republicans have responded as they always do: petulantly shouting “no” and plopping their fat butts down in the middle of the legislative path to block progress.

But Obama could take one symbolic step on his own that would create jobs for about a dozen American workers. It involves the construction of a memorial and statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on our National Mall. After all, King’s historic 1963 march on Washington was about jobs and poverty — so why not have some of our highly skilled bricklayers and stone masons who’re now unemployed build this monument in honor of King’s legacy?

Seems sensible — but guess what? The quasi-governmental foundation overseeing the King memorial project doesn’t seem to have much sense. It is importing eight to 12 workers from — believe it or not — China to do this job!

Why don’t they just poke every out-of-work American in the eye with a sharp stick? As the Bricklayers union said in exasperation, this is “wrong, wrong, wrong.”

Well, sniffed a spokeswoman for the foundation, only the centerpiece of the memorial is outsourced to Chinese craftworkers, so stop your griping. Ironically, that centerpiece is named the “Stone of Hope,” but apparently no one at the foundation has any grasp of irony, so they are proceeding to obtain work visas to bring the Chinese into our nation’s capital and construct King’s monument. Presumably, America’s vast pool of jobless workers will be allowed to watch them.

OK, it’s only a dozen jobs — but symbolism is important, especially in these hard times. To join the Bricklayers’ protest of this insult, call the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation and tell them to put Americans back to work: 202-737-5420.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.
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