Sep 24 2009

China, the land of opportunity, attracts America’s tired, poor, huddled masses

Young Americans Going To China For Jobs – the Huffington Post

I remember my 9th grade history class, when we learned about how so many thousands of Chinese immigrated to the American west to build the railroads. My textbook had a picture that looked like this:

Well, that was 130 years ago. Today, the world is a very different place. America, once the land of opportunity, has shed hundreds of thousands of jobs a month for 18 months straight. Unemployment, near 10%, has driven the economy into its deepest recession since the 1930s, trade is grossly imbalanced, as are federal budgets, and national debt has inched ever closer to 100% of GDP. All in all, things are pretty gloomy.

Someday, ninth grade history students may look in their textbooks and read a different story about the early 21st Century. In the future, they may see pictures like this in their history books:

That’s right, today the land of opportunity is China, and hundreds of thousands of foreigners, including thousands of Americans, are packing their bags for the “Middle Kingdom” in search of work.

Young foreigners… are coming to China to look for work in its unfamiliar but less bleak economy, driven by the worst job markets in decades in the United States, Europe and some Asian countries.

Many do basic work such as teaching English, a service in demand from Chinese businesspeople and students. But a growing number are arriving with skills and experience in computers, finance and other fields.

“China is really the land of opportunity now, compared to their home countries,” said Chris Watkins, manager for China and Hong Kong of MRI China Group, a headhunting firm. “This includes college graduates as well as maybe more established businesspeople, entrepreneurs and executives from companies around the world.”

Some 217,000 foreigners held work permits at the end of 2008, up from 210,000 a year earlier, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Thousands more use temporary business visas and go abroad regularly to renew them.

Some foreigners see China not just as a refuge but as a source of opportunities they might not get at home.

Konstantin Schamber, a 27-year-old German, passed up possible jobs at home to become business manager for a Beijing law firm, where he is the only foreign employee.

“I believe China is the same place as the United States used to be in the 1930s that attracts a lot of people who’d like to have either money or career opportunities,” Schamber said.

There’s a lot of talk in America today, on the news, on the radio, in the papers, about whether the US economy will ever return to “normal”. Unemployment is nearly 10%, and some economists think it may take years for it to fall below 10% once more.

I guess the good news is, if Americans start heading to China in ever larger numbers to find work, the number of people looking for work in the US will fall, leading to lower unemployment. Of course, that’s not how the US wants to bring down unemployment, nor is it good for the nation’s long-run growth potential if high skilled workers go abroad to find jobs. But it does raise a very important question: Will America be the land of opportunity in the future? Or will its tired, huddled masses become the “boat people” of the 21st Century, seeking employment on distant shores.

Full disclosure here: I myself have only worked as a teacher abroad, including in China! And to be honest, it is because the demand for my skills is clearly greater overseas than it is at home! My income is far higher abroad than I could earn in an American public school, and my services and skills are valued much greater in the international setting, particularly in Asia!


About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

One response so far

One Response to “China, the land of opportunity, attracts America’s tired, poor, huddled masses”

  1. Bjorn Kvaaleon 04 Nov 2009 at 3:35 am

    The US economy is not the same as it was 130 years ago. Back then, America was the land where your dreams could come true aka the American Dream. The country was brand-new and development and the need for jobs were everywhere. Nowadays, America is facing the worst recession since the great depression. As the unemployment rises in America, the unemployed are looking for jobs outside of the American marketplace.

    China is a great opportunity for many foreigners because the economy is booming there. After the fall of the dictatorship, capitalism allowed the country's economy to fully bloom. There is much more demand for jobs in China than in America now. Foreigners are able to firstly get a job, but also get paid better than they would for a similar job in America. That is the beauty of a global marketplace.