Subscribe to Money Magazine
News > Jobs & Economy
More Fed coverage
Greenspan notes 'unease' about jobs
Central bank chairman says worker education is the key to helping displaced workers find jobs.
February 20, 2004: 3:30 PM EST
By Mark Gongloff, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday that the steady movement of U.S. jobs offshore should help the economy in the long run, but that American workers needed to be better-prepared to take whatever higher-skilled jobs come along to replace the lost jobs.

Greenspan noted that, in recent years, new technology has helped businesses produce more with fewer workers, while globalization has led to an increasing flow of U.S. jobs moving overseas.

This process is good for the broader economy in the long run, he said, helping to raise standards of living, but is causing "inevitable stresses and anxieties" in the short run.

"There is a palpable unease that businesses and jobs are being drained from the United States, with potentially adverse long-run implications for unemployment and the standard of living of the average American," Greenspan said in prepared remarks delivered to the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

His solution to the problem, as he told Congress last week, is to do a better job of educating American workers.

"The capacity of workers, after being displaced, to find a new job that will eventually provide nearly comparable pay most often depends on the general knowledge of the worker and the ability of that individual to learn new skills," Greenspan said.

Related stories
Fed official says outsourcing good
White House won't back job forecast
The key to job growth in 2004
Job forecast: higher than it looks
Is the job market broken?

He said this process has been working in the U.S. economy for many decades, helping workers find new work and pushing wages steadily higher, and he saw no reason why it should stop now.

"Over the long sweep of American generations and waves of economic change, we simply have not experienced a net drain of jobs to advancing technology or to other nations," he said.

The labor market has only recently shown signs of emerging from its longest slump since World War II. Payrolls are still 2.3 million jobs lighter than they were when the 2001 recession began. Despite nine straight quarters of economic growth after that recession ended, businesses have only recently begun to add to their payrolls.

Layoffs and Downsizing
Alan Greenspan

A combination of weaker-than-usual economic growth and strong productivity gains -- enabling businesses to milk more work from fewer workers -- have conspired to keep hiring anemic. But many economists believe those trends will reverse this year, leading to more hiring.

Still, many economists also believe that the effects of globalization and technological advance could keep hiring less robust than in other recoveries. The prospect of further labor-market pain has led politicians of both major parties to talk increasingly of protectionist measures that would limit free trade.

Greenspan, in his speech on Friday, warned that such measures would be counterproductive.

"Protectionism will do little to create jobs," he said, "and if foreigners retaliate, we will surely lose jobs."

Some liberal think tanks and politicians have called for measures that would be somewhat less drastic -- though still unpalatable to some companies -- such as offering tax incentives to firms who keep jobs in the United States or requiring trading partners to adhere to certain labor standards.  Top of page

  More on NEWS
Anheuser-Busch orders 800 hydrogen-powered semi trucks from Tesla rival Nikola
H&M and Zara ditch mohair wool after animal cruelty expose
US and China kick off talks to avoid a trade war
Glenn Beck walks off CNN interview over questions about his media company
The weird reason that mighty Amazon isn't in the Dow
Xiaomi wants to raise over $6 billion in Hong Kong IPO

graphic graphic