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Corporate profits don't translate

Robert Reich

Tess Vigeland: So there are signs of economic trouble -- namely in the job market. But corporate stocks had their best performance of the year in April. Profits are soaring.

So why hasn't that translated into more hiring? That's the question commentator Robert Reich's says we should be asking.


Robert Reich: First-quarter corporate profits are way up, as is the stock market. But the U.S. economy has slowed to a crawl -- a measly 1.8 percent annualized growth -- down from over 3 percent last quarter. Real wages are also down. And despite more jobs, the percent of working-age Americans actually working remains as low as it was in the depths of the recession.

How can big American corporations be doing so well and the economy so badly? Because their sales are booming -- abroad. And they're adding new jobs where their sales are.

Caterpillar, for example, is going gangbusters outside the U.S. -- and over the last year has added 12,000 workers abroad. But its domestic workforce remains below pre-recession levels.

Or look at GE, the bellwether of American corporations -- 60 percent of its business is now coming from outside the U.S. And that's where 54 percent of its employees are.

Almost half the sales of the S&P 500 are now overseas. The Commerce Department reports that in the past decade American multinationals have eliminated almost 3 million jobs in the U.S. while adding more than 2 million abroad.

So we've got big American corporations in a vigorous recovery that's raising stock prices -- while the U.S. economy languishes. Which raises some basic questions.

What is the American economy, and how is its success supposed to be measured?

And why should big U.S. corporations whose sales and employees and even investors are becoming more and more global, be called "American" companies, anyway?

And finally, why should the Supreme Court give these big global companies First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money on our elections?

You see, we're relying on our elected officials for policies that help create jobs with good wages here in America, which isn't exactly the objective of these global enterprises.


Vigeland: Robert Reich served as secretary of labor under President Clinton. His most recent book is called Next week, David Frum. Send us your comments -- click on the contact link.

About the author

Robert Reich is chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton.

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