Between 3.5 million and 5.5 million Americans work in the telephony industry, a loose estimate made more difficult by the industry’s high turnover rate.
Georgia actively recruits the telephony industry, tallying more than 320 call center and virtual marketing companies statewide. Atlanta ranks fifth nationwide with 105,000 customer care, corporate solution or telemarketing jobs. Thirteen call center operations have located or expanded in Georgia since July 2008 -- the depth of the recession. Twenty-two Georgia colleges offer customer service certificate programs. The state’s military bases lure call center operators keen to hire the spouses of active-duty service members. A mostly nonunionized workforce. Much of the work comes from companies returning call-center work from India and the Philippines to the United States, so-called “home-shoring” or “reverse outsourcing.”
Their desire for low-paying, previously outsourced customer service work speaks volumes about Georgia’s economy, the future of employment in the United States. With double-digit unemployment bedeviling Georgia’s economy and prospects dim for a surge in well-paying jobs in 2011, job seekers embrace customer service jobs. And, unlike most industries sundered by the recession, the telemarketing/customer care industry has blossomed across Georgia.
“High unemployment puts downward pressure on wages in this country and that makes the alternative of keeping these jobs in the United States a lot more viable,” said Rosemary Batt, a call center expert at Cornell University. “But it is a real problem that the fastest-growing occupation in this country is low-wage service jobs, a problem that is not unique to call centers.”
In 1998, for example, 72.8 percent of Americans worked in the service industry. By 2018, that will be 78.8 percent of the workforce.
“We will have a very polarized workplace future in that we will have jobs growing at the bottom and at the top -- and the jobs at the lower end are growing much faster,” Cornell’s Batt said. “Many of these jobs do not provide a living wage and the rising inequality breeds resentment among families who may not be able to make ends meet. That creates very, very difficult social and political problems for the United States.”