The unemployment rate remains near double digits and many Americans have simply stopped looking for work. Yet somehow an NBC sitcom about U.S. jobs going overseas is becoming a hit.
The show, called Outsourced, revolves around an American manager running a call center in India. It's great to see a prime-time show take place somewhere other than the United States. After all, if you get all of your information about the world from network television, you might not even be able to locate Canada on a map (oh, yeah, that place just to the right of Northern Exposure).
The premise of Outsourced is that Todd, the American manager, is saddled with a B team of call center employees--quirky but loveable underdogs who are just struggling to get by. In other words, an American television audience is being asked to sympathize with a group of Indian workers who have jobs that Americans have recently lost. That any Americans want to watch--its average of 6.3 million viewers a week makes the show one of the top new network offerings so far this season--is remarkable.
The truth is that we're divided. There's a gulf between cosmopolitans who benefit from globalization and blue-collar workers whose wages have gone steadily downhill because of foreign competition. Some people appreciate the 24-hour customer service line, regardless of the accent of the person on the other end. Others are strictly "Buy American."
Sometimes, it's the same person who lost her job last week to a run-away factory and this week shops at Walmart to save money by getting cheap shirts produced in Sri Lanka and cheap Halloween decorations made in China.
According to the consumer watchdog Public Citizen, the nation has lost about 4.9 million jobs and 43,000 factories because of free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and normalization of trade relations with China.
President Barack Obama has said that he wants to eliminate tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas. The president supported a bill that would have done just that - but Republicans killed the bill in the Senate.
However, Obama is leaning toward supporting trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia that the Bush administration negotiated. And he pushed through bailouts for U.S. companies without conditions that would have restricted their outsourcing of jobs.
Don't expect Outsourced to delve into those issues. It is a sitcom, after all.
But you can count on this TV show to humanize the people so often demonized for taking American jobs. Even the Buy America crowd can take some measure of solace when watching the show.
Except for a few framing shots, the show is filmed in Los Angeles with mostly American actors.
But director Ken Kwapis says that if the show is successful, he'll do more work on location. In a clear sign of the times, Outsourced itself may wind up getting outsourced.
John Feffer is co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org