Should Apple do more to help the US economy?
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Should Apple do more to help the US economy?

Once upon a time Apple boasted that its products were made in America. That's changed. And the question is: should Apple do more to support the U.S.. economy?

A recent "New York Times" story (http://macte.ch/MofNt) notes that almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold in 2011 were manufactured overseas. The company earned over US$400,000 in profit per employee -- more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google. With that kind of moolah, couldn't Apple bring more jobs to our country?

Depends -- as does most things in life -- on how you look at it. As the "Times" notes, President Obama and others are "vexed" that high tech companies like Apple that are rolling in money don't help American jobs as other famous companies, such as General Motors and General Electric, did in the past.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, "a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s." An additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble Apple products -- but almost all of them in Asia, Europe and elsewhere

"Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now," Jared Bernstein, who until last year was an economic adviser to the White House, tells the "Times." "If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried."

In its defense, Apple has kept its centers in the United States. What's more, one "New York Times" source estimated that sales of Apple’s products "have caused other companies to hire tens of thousands of Americans."

Of course, it's not just Apple who has the bulk of its workforce overseas. Most, if not all, tech companies do the same. Why? Cheap labor and "flexibility." For example, Chines workers live in dormitories and can be at work very quickly if Apple needs a last-minute product change -- such as when Apple redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul.

Also, there's no way iPhones, iPad, iPods and Macs could be sold at the same price at they are now if they were all made in the USA as American workers get much better wages than their Asia counterparts? Apple would also point out that it employes more US workers than ever before.

I'd be willing to pay more for my Apple purchases, but would most people? And if Apple moved more of its jobs back to the US, how could it compete against other companies on pricing unless all high tech companies did the same? Also, if we brought the jobs back home, what of the Asian workers? They make a decent wage by their countries' standards -- though far from what Americans consider (and should consider) "decent." And let's not even get into the working conditions such as the dormitories and amount of hours worked.

Still, it would be great to see Apple set an example in: a) improving working conditions at overseas factories; and b) making some sacrifices to create more "Made in the USA" jobs even it it means making less profit per product. After all, it's not like the company is short on cash. Last fiscal year, Apple’s revenue topped US$108 billion. That's more than the combined state budgets of Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

"Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice," Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September, told the "Times." "That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity."

-- Dennis Sellers

 

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