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Just How Cheap is Chinese Labor?

Reliable data don't exist, but the U.S. government is doing some sleuthing

Every year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compares manufacturing labor costs in the U.S. with those of about 30 global rivals. Its latest report, on Nov. 18, showed that average hourly compensation of foreign factory workers rose 12% in 2003, measured in dollars, compared with 4% in the U.S.

But these statistics have a glaring omission: China. The BLS can't compare Chinese and U.S. factory labor costs because reliable statistics from the Asian giant don't exist. That makes it hard to assess China's competitive strength.