Made In China: Your Job

Sept. 21, 2005— -- China's economy continues to skyrocket and, with it, American fortunes have been won and lost. "Good Morning America's" Bill Weir recently traveled to China and returned with a four-part series: "Made in China: Your Job, Your Future, Your Fortune."

In the second installment, Weir examines China's surging economy and what gains in Chinese business mean for American jobs.

The Nike plant in the Guangdong province is by no means a sweatshop. Overtime is limited to a 48-hour workweek, the company brings in a ton of rice a day to feed everyone, and the facilities even include a golf course.

But it is hardly a country club by American standards. While the plant provides housing, it is in massive, sweltering dormitories that sleep eight to a room. And wages are low -- just $31 a week -- less than 15 times less the wage paid at an American factory.

Because labor is so cheap, Nike can produce an affordable sneaker for American consumers, but American industries worry that the workers may not tolerate these conditions for long.

"The conditions and surroundings are pretty good," said Chen Zihong, a worker at the Nike factory. "If nothing urgent comes up, I'll probably work here awhile."

Chen, a 22-year-old from the countryside, was promoted off the assembly line after just a year, and her co-workers are on the lookout for better jobs as well. They are some of the 1.3 billion members of an increasingly upward mobile society. Questions abound as to whether the next generation will be willing to make shoes when they can be building and designing cars, airplanes and satellites.

At the Genomics Lab in Beijing, technicians sleep at their desks under slogans that read, "Occupy the hilltop first, clean up the war zone later."

"We use 24 hours, seven days, compared to other people's five days, eight hours, and that's how we can squeeze more out and getting a cost advantage here in China," said Darren Cai of Genomics.

When SARS hit Asia, this lab was able to isolate the genetic makeup of the virus in a day and a half, one of just many reasons why more American companies are tapping into this vast, motivated and increasingly brilliant talent pool.

"There isn't such a thing as an American job," said Tom Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times who has written several books on the developing world. "There's just a job. And in many cases it will go to the most efficient, cheapest, smartest person who can do that job. You have to think of yourself as competing globally."

Microsoft opened a lab in Beijing seven years ago, and the young people doodling their inspirations on walls and tables are some of China's best and brightest.

They admit they have a lot of work before they catch up to American superiority, but for those in Silicon Valley tempted to scoff at the Chinese upstarts, it's important to remember that New England was once the shoe-making capital of the world.

"There will be winners and losers from globalization," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Most of society wins. We win every time we go shopping because prices are lower. Choice is greater because of globalization. But there are losers. There are people who will lose their jobs either to foreign competition or technological innovation. And we need to help those people."

For an American selling cosmetics, it's not enough to worry about the competitor across the street. Now that retailer will have to worry about Hu Jie across the world. A few years ago, she seemed destined to work at a construction site. Then eBay arrived in China, and now she makes a living selling face cream to women everywhere. Hu said she believes she will be the next cosmetics mogul.

"My parents used to say to me, 'Tom, finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving,'" Friedman said. "And what I tell my girls today is, 'Girls, finish your homework. People in China and India are starving for your jobs.'"