L ike most people, I guess, I've had to deal more and more frequently with people who work for U.S. companies, but who don't actually work in the U.S.
Almost always over the telephone, and almost always a customer service issue.
Which, I admit, is a problem for me because I struggle -- don't ask me why, I just do -- understanding people over the phone when they're speaking English, but with a foreign accent. And it doesn't seem to matter if the accent is Indian, Asian, French, Russian, German or British, I seem to miss or misunderstand half or more of what they say.
That, of course, creates an environment in which miscommunication is almost a certainty, which defeats the whole purpose of the conversation in the first place.
It's called "outsourcing." It's nothing new, because American companies have been sending all types of work to foreign countries for a couple hundred years -- mostly because the labor in other countries is cheaper, and there are fewer government regulations to deal with.
Still, it's a sorer-than-usual subject these days because America's economy is struggling to keep its head above water at the same time jobs previously performed by Americans in America are now being shipped outside the country.
Many of these jobs involve information technology -- telephone communications for various types of businesses -- mostly in India, China and the Philippines, but other countries, as well -- namely Malaysia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, South Africa, and Mexico.
Naturally people are upset about it. They see jobs leaving the country when so many people are unemployed, and they're not amused.
So it isn't much of a surprise that Congress -- thanks to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. -- is now pondering legislation that would set limits on call center jobs leaving the country.
The plan is to make American companies that would move call center jobs overseas suffer a severe penalty for doing it. The legislation would make such companies ineligible for federal funding, including grants and loans.
Businesses that ship call center jobs overseas "shouldn't see the benefits of government grants and loans," Casey said.
Sounds fair to me.
Moving call center jobs overseas also would cause companies to be added to a special Department of Labor list -- a public list -- for three years at a time. Preference for all government agency contracts -- the Department of Defense, for example -- would be given to American companies that aren't on the list.
In Casey's mind, it's all about preserving jobs in America and protecting the interests of American workers.
"We've got to do both job creation and job preservation," Casey said. "This is one effort to have some job preservation for the people of Pennsylvania."
And I say "hooray" to that.
There are, after all, about 4 million workers in America who have call center jobs. About 200,000 of those jobs are right here in Pennsylvania, and 6,800 of those workers are unemployed, including approximately 200 living in York County.
It's about time someone has started thinking about those folks.
Except that they're not the highest-paying jobs in America. Maybe $10 an hour, or so. We're going to an awful lot of trouble to save a bunch of $10-an-hour jobs. In another year or two, that will barely amount to minimum wage in this country.
I'm wondering about all the higher-paying American jobs lost to outsourcing.
In addition to call center services, other types of outsourced jobs might include data and document management, technology development, customer service, engineering and architecture, software and information technology, transcription, electronics manufacturing, research and analysis, website and legal services, banking and finance and health care.
In fact, more and more manufacturing jobs are going outside America every day.
And most of them are jobs paying more than $10 an hour in this country.
Why aren't we trying to save those jobs?
Yes, Casey was speaking about call center jobs when he said, "If we're just going to allow this to continue to happen without consequences ... it's going to be difficult to reduce the numbers."
But he easily could have been talking about every American job that's being outsourced to other countries.
For the sake of consistency, if nothing else, it's something to consider.
If we're going to save jobs in this country, let's concentrate first on the jobs most worth saving.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.