Some of the country's best-known multi­national corporations closely guard a number they don't want anyone to know: the breakdown between their jobs here and abroad.
So secretive are these firms that they hand the figure over to government statisticians on the condition that officials will release only an aggregate number. The latest data show that multinationals cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and added 2.4 million overseas between 2000 and 2009.
Some of the same firms that do not report their jobs breakdown, including Apple and Pfizer, are pushing lawmakers to cut their tax bills in the name of job creation in the U.S. But experts say without details on which firms are contributing to job growth and which are not, policymakers risk flying blind as they try to jump-start the hiring of American workers.
"It's an important piece of information that the Americans should have," said Ron Hira, an associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "Should you listen to the kind of advice these companies have about how to grow the economy when their record and their model indicates they've cut jobs? Or should we talk to people who actually do create jobs in the U.S.?"
As the country faces an unemployment crisis, President Obama, lawmakers and business lobbyists have all touted the country's biggest companies as critical to creating jobs.
The head of Obama's jobs council, General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt, said during a tour of a company plant in Greensboro, S.C.: "If you want to be an admired company, you better know, you better have accountability, and you better think through where the jobs are." GE breaks out its employment numbers in company filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In 2010, about 46% of GE's 287,000 employees worked in the US, compared with 54% in 2000. IBM stopped giving its U.S. head count in 2009. "We just made a policy that we would only break out global head count," said spokesman Doug Shelton.
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