Not so shockingly, as a result of the offshoring moves by industry and the ever-increasing pressure on domestic IT workers, the proportion of Americans going for high-tech education is declining. Why get a degree for a job that will be shipped overseas or pay minimum wage (when you factor in the unpaid overtime) to remain competitive with India or China? At this rate, the U.S. education system will be exporting high-tech know-how overseas, ironically using foreign teachers to do so (since American high-tech educators are also in decline). This is not a strategy for remaining a high-tech leader or having the ability to use technology to drive the economy forward.
Addressing the problem is not easy: A protectionist approach will drive the many foreigners who contribute to the U.S. knowledge economy away, and could actually accelerate the transfer of tech jobs overseas. The goal should be to keep a healthy IT sector in the U.S., so we retain a viable long-term talent pool and IT industry.
Through policies that encourage the use of U.S. information workers and discourage the use of overseas resources for purely economic reasons, the government can create a sufficient homegrown demand and thus maintain a viable talent pool. When foreigners are hired because allegedly no Americans are able to do the job, the government must enforce that the salaries paid are in fact the same as for American workers; the truth is that the foreign workers are typically paid less. If the pay is truly the same, that will reduce the number of workers imported under false pretences.
Unemployment insurance rates should be higher for companies that cut U.S. staff and then move or outsource jobs overseas. And given the savings that U.S. companies get in terms of health and retirement benefits, perhaps they should also continue to pay Medicare and payroll taxes for those jobs moved overseas, as part of leveling the playing field so that overseas hires are truly based on who's best for the job. Or perhaps companies that exceed a certain portion of nondomestic labor would be ineligible for the many tax breaks the federal government gives for research and other investments -- after all, the reason for the taxpayer subsidy is that the benefit accrues to the nation.
Tax breaks for the retraining -- and hiring -- of older U.S. workers will also help. The hiring part is key: Any displaced older worker knows how hard it is to find a new job in a new skill area, given they are competing with cheaper, younger candidates. The retraining per se isn't enough.
I have no illusions that this is social policy, where the government designates information technology as a strategic national capacity. But we all know it is, so let's act accordingly. We can do so without resorting to Ugly Americanism.
National health records system
Despite its title, the 1996 Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act does nothing to make health records portable. It does establish standards for the handling of medical records, which created a huge compliance effort for many businesses. But the real problem remains unresolved: a national standard for medical data that everyone would have to use, allowing health records to flow easily among doctors, hospitals, insurers, and so on.