Well, boy has the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) got news for you.
The United States' No. 1 strategic consultancy's latest study shows 2 million to 3 million manufacturing jobs and about $100 billion in output can be expected to return to the United States from China by 2020.
That's right. China, so often the scapegoat for U.S. joblessness - and an alleged "currency manipulator" - actually is becoming our best ally in the fight against high unemployment.
The BCG team says three things will bring millions of Chinese jobs back to America:
- Soaring Inflation. China's annual inflation pulled back to 6.2% in August after hitting a three-year high in July. It's rumored that the People's Bank of China will allow the yuan to rise further to curb rising prices. A stronger currency will make the country's exports and labor less competitive.
- Rising Wages. Chinese labor is steadily becoming better educated and more affluent. The central government is targeting an increase in minimum wages of 13% a year through 2015.
- And A Stronger Yuan. The yuan has risen about 30% against the dollar since 2005. Again, the great motivator here is not the saber rattling of U.S. politicians, but rather troubling levels of inflation that could spur civil unrest.
Made in the U.S.A. (Again)Indeed, Chinese manufacturing, which had been much cheaper than U.S. manufacturing for the last decade or so, is suddenly less competitive in certain sectors.
This should come as a huge relief for Americans.
Modern telecommunications and the Internet revolution made it easier and cheaper than ever before to run a global supply chain. Consequently, U.S. manufacturing was priced out of the market.
We saw it first in cheap clothing - a highly labor-intensive industry where U.S. factories were already struggling.
The move to Chinese clothing sourcing, pushed into overdrive by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), brought immense cost benefits to U.S. consumers. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics price index for apparel has declined by 15% in nominal terms since 1993, compared with a 50% increase in consumer prices as a whole.
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, helped this process along with their ultra soft money policies. We haven't had much inflation because of the price declines brought by outsourcing, but for many years it has been exceptionally cheap to raise money for investment in emerging markets. China and other emerging markets already had a cost advantage in cheap labor, and the Fed's loose monetary policies further encouraged outsourcing.
As a result, U.S. workers can now buy cheaper clothes from China through Wal-Mart, but are losing jobs and being forced to accept lower wages. And since Bernanke cannot be persuaded to reverse policy and raise interest rates, it was beginning to look as though U.S. jobs would drain away until American wages were at Chinese, or even African, levels.
However, the BCG report is a very welcome sign that this process could actually be coming to an end. Chinese wages have risen so much that U.S. labor is now competitive when its higher productivity and lower transport costs are taken into account.