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American workers are choosing China

Marketplace Staff Jun 9, 2008

American workers are choosing China

Marketplace Staff Jun 9, 2008


Kai Ryssdal: We’re going to get the latest figures on international trade in the morning, which means we can reliably give you tomorrow’s news today: right after that report’s released, we’re going to hear a lot of grousing about the Chinese currency, the yuan.

Last year, our trade gap with Beijing hit $256 billion dollars, that’s the biggest imbalance ever with a single country.

American manufacturers say a weak yuan puts U.S. exports at a competitive disadvantage, but Bill Marcus reports from Shanghai, American workers figure if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Bill Marcus: Like many recent college graduates, Marc Meising’s carrying an enormous debt burden, but his new job will allow him to pay off $28,000 in student loans and credit cards by the end of the summer. There’s one catch: the job’s in China.

Marc Meising: For me to grow my career path it tends to be much faster than in the U.S. I’m given a lot more responsibility out here with my current company whereas in the U.S., I was hired as business associate.

Shanghai is teeming with American 20-somethings with two feet, a heartbeat and a bachelor’s degree. Those fluent in Chinese enjoy enormous earning power and opportunities unavailable in the U.S. recession.

Waitress: Ok, so I explain the main course. It will be more easy for me.

At this fancy French restaurant, 23-year-old Peter Braden’s getting a rundown on a menu he couldn’t even afford to even look at back home in Ballston Spa, New York. But like the job market, prices in China are relative too.

Peter Braden: A lot of my friends that are back home are kind of stagnating

Peter’s got his own apartment. He works as a writer, something he loves. If he were still home in upstate New York, he’d have to rely on rides from his mother.

Braden: I work really hard, but I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve such a nice quality of life and I’m not sure how long this will last.

The answer was two months. But when Braden lost one writing job, he quickly found another. That’s what happens in emerging markets.

Andrew Hupert is publisher of Chinasolved.com. He says the experiences for young workers in China comes so fast and furious that they’re equivalent to dog years.

Andrew Hupert: China’s moving beyond pure price competition and now they are starting to focus more on services. So this does play to the strengths of young college graduates who can write, can do service jobs and run small teams of people.

But for Americans of a certain age — over 40 — moving to Shanghai means avoiding the unemployment line.

Ken Grady moved here two years ago to head up an engineering team at an automotive parts company. He says work as a manager back in the States is depressing emotionally as well as economically.

Ken Grady: Here in China, I spend 20-30 percent of my time hiring new people. In the U.S., I would probably spend 70 percent of my time trying to figure out how to get rid of people or how to reduce costs in some way.

So as long as the American economy keeps going south, more Americans will keep coming East.

In Shanghai, I’m Bill Marcus for Marketplace.

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