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White-Collar Jobs Leaving Northeast Ohio

Friday, March 11, 2005 at 9:44 AM

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Outsourcing woes were once limited solely to manufacturing workers - indeed, thousands of Ohioans have lost their factory jobs because of it. But increasingly, Northeast Ohio's white-collar jobs are heading overseas. ideastream's Janet Babin reports.

Brian Lamiell is coming close to living in his car. The 36-year-old has a bachelor’s and an associates degree, but the IT professional who once worked for Alltell, and other large companies, has been out of full time work in his field for more than three years.

Brian Lamiell: See, after 9-11, everything went downhill. So, I couldn’t even find a job at McDonalds, ‘cause when I applied at McDonalds, they said I don’t think you’d be happy here, which was kind of a slap in the face for me.

Lamiell is teaching technology classes part-time at a local college, but he says he can’t make ends meet. He fears that soon he’ll face foreclosure on his South Euclid house. Lameill’s plight is becoming more common for white collar professionals once used to $100,000-a-year salaries. Take the case of Dave, a recent caller to WCPN’s 90.3 at 9 program who despaired over the diminishing prospects for him and others IT professionals.

Dave: Between outsourcing and the idea that now an entry level programmer has a bachelor’s with two years experience, there’s no point.

I went through this myself and basically got out and everybody in my class got out, none of us could find jobs as programmers. And most of the IT professionals I talked to said, become a carpenter, become a truck driver, become a butcher - just don’t go into this.”

According to The State of Poverty in Ohio 2005 report, the state’s wealthy suffered the largest income losses during the recent recession that some argue still isn’t over. Some economists blame the economic downturn, combined with an increasing trade deficit with China. Robert Scott with the Economic Policy Institute says 21,000 Ohio jobs have been lost to China since 1989.

Robert Scott: These are jobs lost due to the growth in the trade deficit with China since about 1989, and typically about 3/4 have been in manufacturing. But there is a large and growing share of white collar jobs that are dependent on manufacturing.

Scott says the fastest growing sector of jobs lost to outsourcing is those involving computer or technological skills. But Dr. Bill Raynor, Associate Professor at State University of New York at Delhi says the off shoring of computer and IT jobs, has hit a plateau.

Bill Raynor: The computer industry, they were one of the ones that were adversely impacted up front and the beginning. And so much of that work has now gone overseas, there’s more of an equilibrium in wages, so the incentives to outsource in that area are probably less than they were a year or two ago, because most of the cost savings and advantages have already occurred.

But local IT consultant Bob Coppedge says there’s no question that computer professionals are still struggling with falling salaries and fewer full time positions. Coppedge is also president of the non-profit Greater Cleveland PC Users Group - he says computer professionals need to step up their market profiles to keep and attract employers.

Bob Coppedge: The problem is, is that IT people historically, we have gotten away with just being skilled. We just know how to program, we just know how to maintain a network. Well, that’s become commodity knowledge. Anybody can learn how to maintain the network. And what has ended up happening is people are willing to maintain with those generic commodity skills, they’re willing to do those things at a fraction of the cost.

Some professionals argue that outsourcing is a new term for an age-old phenomenon, that’s been happening for decades to people in every profession, even in academia.

Mehran Mehregany: That job base shift is happening to all of us.

Mehran Mehregany is department chair of Case Western Reserve University’s School of Engineering. He says if he hadn’t kept himself educated, and increased his innovation levels from five years ago, he too, would have been eliminated from his job. Dr. Mehregany says off-shoring of some professional and manufacturing positions from the U.S. to other countries carries with it intrinsic benefits that help the economy, and the low income people who most often complain about losing jobs to outsourcing.

Mehran Mehregany: The reason we all enjoy the quality of life we do is because we can go to Walmart, Costco, Sam’s Club, and buy all the things we buy for cheap. So that same class that is disadvantaged because they have to learn, is advantaged by the fact that they can buy a lot of that stuff at prices otherwise not affordable.

But the disadvantaged class Mehregany refers to could be growing. Professor Raynor, of Suny Delhi, says architects, accountants and engineers are the newest wave of professionals losing jobs to their overseas counterparts. In Cleveland, Janet Babin, 90.3.

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