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The Wages of Downsizing

Contrary to popular myths, downsizing does not necessarily make companies more profitable, more productive, or even smaller. As former downsizer Alan Downs reports, however, it does drive down wages.

I made my way to the front of the auditorium where 100 or so current and prospective members of Congress were filling the seats. The Democratic Caucus had invited me, along with other political, academic, and business experts, to participate in a panel discussion on what promises to be the key question of the presidential election: Has the average American worker benefited from the economic gains of the past several years?

Joseph Stiglitz, chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, spoke first. Freshly armed with an election-year report that suggests the economic anxiety workers feel is largely a figment of their imagination, Stiglitz implied the media and ambitious politicians have fooled American workers into thinking their jobs are in jeopardy.

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As Stiglitz beamed over the creation of 8.5 million new jobs since 1993, I shuffled through my notes, which included these facts: More Americans have been laid off since 1993 than in any previous three-year period since the government started counting in 1979, and workers' salaries have remained stagnant for the past 20 years. I was dumbfounded that an administration elected with the help of organized labor would try to put a positive spin on the plight of working Americans.

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