The Who’s Better Off Game:Telecommunications Workers

It has become a favorite anectdote for opponents of international outsourcing — the call to a telephone operator that is answered in India or Singapore or China. But behind that bleak tale is an equally grim reality — telecommuncations jobs are disappearing, and those which remain are paying less and less. What’s more, customer service reps aren’t the only ones suffering…


Jobs have disappeared at a steadier in the telecom industry than in perhaps any other sector. Operators are vanishing, thanks in part to automation and in part to outsourcing. Customer service jobs are disappearing too, shipped overseas or eliminated as companies downsize. And equipment installers are also out of work.

Operators have been hardest hit. Between 2000 and 2003, almost 15 percent of all operator jobs were lost. And operators’ income has dropped, too, with real wages falling .5 percent over the same period. Still, nationwide, there are only about a third as many operators as there are telecom customer service representatives. And operators, on average, earn about 20 percent less. But that’s not to suggest that customer service workers are doing any better.

Customer service jobs have declined across the telecom industry since 2000 — albeit at a slower rate that those for operators. The more worrying development is that real income for customer service workers has dropped sharply — down nearly 7 percent between 2000 and 2003. In California, where more customer service workers are employed than in any other state, the wage loss has been less dramatic — real income has slipped, but only by .37 percent. But jobs have disappeared in California far faster than elsewhere in the country. Between 2000 and 2003, more than 4.5 percent of all customer service jobs in California were elminated.

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