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Department of Bogus Jobs Statistics

Last Friday, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk was in Pennsylvania to tout the Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) where he claimed that “Increased exports due to the Korea deal alone may support as many as 70,000 additional jobs nationwide.”

Most of the time these types of jobs statistics seem to come out of thin air and you never hear how the proponents came up with them. However, with a bit of investigation we can try to trace this number back to its origin.

An earlier mention of this stat in the President’s Progress Report on the National Export Initiative gives a hint as to its origin: “The Korean FTA would increase goods exports by an estimated $10-11 billion, which would support an estimated 70,000 jobs…”

The $10-11 billion exports figure matches the bilateral export figure in Table 2.2 of the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) report on the Korea FTA, so it seems that the export figure comes from there. Now, if only we had an exports-to-jobs ratio…

Aha! – a recent report from the International Trade Administration estimated that every $150,000 in exports supports one American job (see Table 1 here). Applying this multiplier to the USITC exports estimate, we get 73,333-66,667 jobs. The 70,000 jobs stat is right in the middle of the range, so there is a high probability that this is the origin of the estimate.

Sure, more exports leads to more jobs, but don’t NAFTA-style FTAs tend to increase imports, which force companies to lay off American workers?  This “70,000 new jobs” stat leaves out any consideration of the effect of imports.  The USITC’s report does contain full estimates of the increased imports that the Korea FTA will bring about, but the USTR chooses to ignore this estimate.

If we were to account for the effects of imports, use this same method of jobs calculation, and consider the effect of the Korea FTA on the U.S. global trade balance (available on Table 2.3 in the USITC report), we would find that the Korea FTA would cost us a net 2,100-2,700 jobs, since the trade deficit will increase by $308-$416 million.

The bottom line is that the “70,000 jobs created” number is just a bogus stat, and USTR should stop using it to promote the Korea FTA.

(And, BTW, as for Kirk's selective invocation of the merely bilateral change in trade, 60 percent of the merely bilateral job estimate is wiped away if you were to also incorporate the USITC's projections on bilateral imports with Korea.)

UPDATE: Lastly, even if the 70,000 jobs figure was correct, the U.S. would have to do the equivalent of signing 29 Korea FTAs to get to Obama's goal of 2 million jobs from exports by 2015, which would be a heavy lift since Korea is the 15th largest economy in the world.

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