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Lost your job? Don't look overseas

Labor Department stats: Very few layoffs linked to offshoring, most fears are in projections.

A tiny fraction of workers hit by mass layoffs earlier this year lost their jobs because of "offshoring," according to research released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department said that in the first quarter, 4,633 nonfarm workers in the private sector lost their jobs for at least 31 days due to the shift of work outside the country. That was less than 2 percent of the 239,361 workers affected by extended mass layoffs, according to the department.

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The study will likely add fuel to the debate over sending technology jobs and other work abroad, which critics blast as threatening the nation's economic future and defenders call a healthy development. Until now, much of the debate over offshoring has been based on projections. These include an estimate from Forrester Research that 3.4 million jobs will move overseas in the next 11 years.

The Labor Department's report reflects current information, with data based in part on unemployment insurance claims. But there are limits to the new study. The statistics reflect layoffs only at companies employing at least 50 workers, where at least 50 people filed for unemployment insurance during a five-week period and the layoff lasted more than 30 days.

Questions on job loss related to the movement of work were added to the Labor Department's research program in January, amid nationwide anxiety about sending work abroad.

Among the concerns surrounding the offshore trend is that the flow of programming and other technology work overseas, combined with problems in the U.S. educational system and decreasing investment in research and development, puts the country's technical prowess in jeopardy.

But technology leaders have countered that sending work to lower-wage nations is good for the U.S. economy and that protectionist measures would result in lower economic growth and higher unemployment.