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Friday, July 06, 2012

Private In-Equity: How Outsourcing affected Wage Standards

This is from Arin Dube:

Private In-Equity: How Outsourcing affected Wage Standards

Arindrajit Dube
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Massachusetts Amherst

There is renewed interest in the issue of onshore outsourcing or subcontracting as we evaluate the societal implications of the private equity model exemplified by Bain Capital. Yes, that would be the Bain Capital that is the main source of earned income for candidate Romney.  Writing on this topic, Paul Krugman recently reported some relevant findings from my research in his blog as well as his column. I thought it would be useful to share some more details from that research that was jointly conducted with Ethan Kaplan.

Over the past 3 decades, a rising share of work that used to be done “in-house” has been outsourced to outside contractors. Sometimes, the exact same work is being done at the same physical location—but by someone with a different employer of record. So what is the point of re-labeling people as outsourced workers as opposed to in-house employees? After all, a janitor cleaning the floor of your building after work hours is doing the same job whether they wear a uniform with a contractor logo or that of your company.  Yet, we have seen companies spin off work that is outside of their “core competencies” to such outside contractors.  While the idea of “core competency” makes us think of knowledge and efficiency, it is also plausible that the primary motivation for companies is to spin off low-wage work to contractors who could—and would—pay lower wages and benefits.    

In our research, we specifically considered two occupations where the contracting status was easy to identify using the data: security guards and janitors. These two occupations also saw extensive contracting out during the 1980s and 1990s.  We found that subcontracted employees earned lower compensation than their in-house counterparts (between 7 and 12 percent for janitors and 13 and 26 percent for security guards depending on the specification).  The evidence for wage reduction held even as we considered individuals within the same occupation switching jobs between in-house and outsourced varieties.

Interestingly, we found that the main impact of outsourcing was to reduce “good jobs” within these occupations: janitors and security guards in the upper half of their respective wage distributions saw substantial reduction in wages due to outsourcing.  The pictures below shows the actual occupational wage distributions in 1983 and 2000, as well as “counterfactual” ones had the level of outsourcing remained constant. The story that these pictures tell is one where good in-house janitorial and security jobs were replaced with worse subcontracted jobs: the top quartile of these service jobs saw the greatest reduction in wages (typically above 15%) due to the growth in outsourcing.  

[click on figure for larger version]

Finally, we found that industries and areas that were outsourcing tended to be those who historically paid better wages and benefits. This is exactly the pattern you would expect if companies outsourced primarily to cut pay for these workers—for instance to break previous implicit contracts without upsetting their “core” workforce or changing company wages and benefit norms.

There were many factors behind the fall in the wages of low-credentialed workers during the 1980s and 1990s. Our research suggests that one of those factors was change in institutional arrangements—such as outsourcing—which further reduced the bargaining position of workers in low-wage occupations. To the extent that companies were rescued—and profits restored—by breaking implicit contracts on wages and benefits, we should rightfully be wary of the societal value of such practices.

    Posted by on Friday, July 6, 2012 at 07:20 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (103)


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