Happy new year (and, for those of you in China or who are celebrating it elsewhere, happy Year of the Rabbit). Because of rampant inflation, 2022 was one of the worst years in decades for falling real incomes across the globe.
Here in America, real average weekly earnings of all U.S. workers fell 3.1 percent in 2022. A central policy challenge in the year ahead is not just creating jobs. It is creating good jobs, i.e., jobs with high and rising incomes.
How to meet this challenge? Just before the winter holidays, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released new data that show the way forward. In 2020, a certain set of U.S. companies employed 28.4 million workers in America at an average annual compensation of $84,925—about 20 percent higher than the average for the rest of the U.S. private sector.
Which companies? The U.S. parents of U.S.-headquartered multinational companies. U.S. multinationals have long been among America’s strongest firms. Although they comprise far less than 1 percent of U.S. companies, in 2020 their U.S. parents accounted for 23.1 percent of all private-sector jobs, 38.5 percent of investment in plant and equipment, 46.4 percent of exports of goods, and a remarkable 72 percent of business spending on research and development.
Despite the common allegation that multinationals simply “export jobs” out of America, research consistently shows that expansion abroad by these firms has tended to complement—not substitute for—their U.S. operations. More investment and employment abroad have tended to create more American investment and jobs as well. From 1988 to 2020, employment in foreign affiliates of U.S. multinationals rose from 4.8 million to 14 million. Over that same period, employment in U.S. parents rose from 17.7 million to 28.4 million—a slightly larger increase at home than abroad.
Thanks to all their global dynamism, for decades U.S. multinationals have driven an outsized share of U.S. productivity growth, the foundation of rising standards of living for everyone. They accounted for about 40 percent of the increase in U.S. business labor productivity since 1990. For workers, the bottom line of all this is high and rising incomes. Globally connected jobs tend to pay more because global engagement fosters—and is fostered by—innovation and growth.