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Why is the US losing technology jobs?
June 2, 2012 3:13 PM   Subscribe

The US has lost a quarter of its high-tech jobs since 2000, the number declining by 687,000. A veteran headhunter opines on the causes: The technical jobs in Silicon Valley are hard to fill with Americans...I get email every day from new grads, asking for help finding jobs, but honestly, most are Indian or Chinese, not many Americans. He cites a NYT article which claims that the reason iPhone manufacturing doesn't happen in the US is that Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.
posted by shivohum (107 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
High-tech manufacturing. That last word matters.

Environmental regulations and better conditions for workers have their price. That price is factored into the price of manufacturing, and companies with a choice choose not to pay extra for little things like "ethics."
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:17 PM on June 2, 2012 [55 favorites]


Jeez, American workers suck so bad. They should try to suck a little less so Apple isn't forced to use Chinese slave labor and then have the New York Times print its press releases about it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2012 [108 favorites]


I find it interesting (but not surprising) that the words 'age discrimination' don't appear at all in that second article.
posted by skye.dancer at 3:25 PM on June 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


I see execs are still happy to justify their lack of allegiance to their country and its interests by blaming workers. I wonder why it is other companies are capable of successfully designing and building products in the US, if the excuse has any basis in reality.

Environmental regulations are a roadblock, but I'm not quite sure why we don't penalize companies for off shoring jobs for the purpose of evading environmental and labor laws
posted by wierdo at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [19 favorites]


"Flexibility" sounds a little...euphemistic?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sonic meat machine and drjimmy11 are spot on. Which is a strange sentence.
posted by Malice at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


the words 'age discrimination' don't appear at all in that second article.

Apple's copy editor probably took it out before he gave them the OK to print.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


I can't be the only one who believes American manufacturing labor will get dramatically cheaper if we had socialized healthcare... it could effectively replace workman's comp and make us much more competitive.
posted by spiderskull at 3:27 PM on June 2, 2012 [86 favorites]


I get email every day from new grads, asking for help finding jobs, but honestly, most are Indian or Chinese, not many Americans. - Recruiter in Silicon Valley.

To come to America and work. Domestic skills in decline. Coinciding with the economic war on the middle class, dumbing down of Americans to prepare for a low-wage, low-skill deregulated industrial future by the GOP.
posted by parmanparman at 3:29 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


All of this talk and no mention of pay rate? Or have things changed so much since when I was in college that there really are very few cs majors who are us citizens now?

Hank Pellissier: Can you give me an example, of a job you tried to fill, that you couldn’t find an American for?

Anonymous Headhunter: Yes. Recently we had an order from a small security start-up. The requirement was for a security hacker type developer who could test their embedded product and try to break into it, to find the security holes. The requirement called for someone who was a US citizen, due to complicated visa reasons. It did not need to be a senior person, just a new college grad. We went to Stanford, UC Berkeley. San Jose State, talked to dozens of new grads…almost ALL were foreigners and would need visa sponsorship. We could not find a US citizen new grad computer science major for the longest time. We finally did, but it was ridiculously difficult. Almost everyone was a foreigner.

posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:36 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


We've spent the better part of two decades gutting our manufacturing infrastructure and reinforcing the notion that manufacturing jobs, of any type, are for losers and now we are reaping what we have sown. Welcome to the service economy kids, try to stay healthy, buy lottery tickets and pray for a reality show. Me? I'm going to start a podcast network...
posted by MikeMc at 3:38 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Don't worry--American workers will soon learn the skills that these companies want.

Namely, acceptance of a vastly lower standard of living, and the willingness to work for far less than you can possibly live on.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:38 PM on June 2, 2012 [34 favorites]


In mandymanwasregistered's quoted answer.... why on earth did it have to be a new grad? Pay seems like the only reason.

Additionally, did they consider asking at schools with a lower percentage of foreign undergraduates? Say, one not in the Bay Area?
posted by maryr at 3:43 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Given this, it's amazing that they always seem to find capable white male citizens for the upper-management positions.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:44 PM on June 2, 2012 [99 favorites]


Stupid Americans, it's all YOUR FAULT; why can't you

1. have a part time job or two
2. pay (or get in debt for) a good education
3. in a hard to master subject (phisic, engineering, you name it)
4. pay your rent/mortgage, food, telephone, internet, gas/electricity, drugs needed to live
5. pay for health insurance
6. pay taxes
7. pay the bailout
8. be inventive, creative, innovative
9. fear thy God
10. respect the elders, the military, the authorities
11. survive tornados, hurricanes, economic crises, massive mortgage fraud
12. enjoy crap shows, gamble, divorce a couple times, pay for your kids and alimony
13. buy antidepressants

everybody does that and they got an HELL of a life !
posted by elpapacito at 3:48 PM on June 2, 2012 [45 favorites]


A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”


If treating people whowork in your factories like this is what it takes for Apple to be "great" and "successful", maybe Apple should be a little less "great". I have a very difficult time believing that it is a net good for the world that the new iPhones are not a second late to market when it requires factories whose "employees" are effectively plantation slaves.

As sing or swim said, until those idiot American workers will agree to move into the factory dormitories and work 24/7, we have no choice but to exploit foreign workers.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [37 favorites]


Always fun to get on the blue and see something that is sure to make me angry, and expose every nasty undercurrent going through my brain.

I've had two jobs since graduating as a software engineering major, and I'm a white, male, US citizen. An effective, miserable, cynical, rule of thumb is that if you are working alongside immigrants, your job will not be pleasant.

How about not treating engineers like dirt, expecting a business major self promotional personality and taking full advantage of anybody who doesn't possess it? The last layoff I witnessed hit almost entirely US citizens of 40 years or more who hadn't reached management. Immigrants and younger ppl (like myself) were spared because we're cheap. I don't know what this article is talking about. I wouldn't recommend software to anybody unless they think they have a viable business idea that they can get off the ground entirely by themselves.

We've had an economic downturn, lets bring on the nationalistic protectionist internationally destabilizing policies that we're all hankering for.

Regarding this quote: "it's amazing that they always seem to find capable white male citizens for the upper-management"

I actually had a white male upper management person say to me once that he figured people were just racially segregating themselves into the jobs their race was most suited for, and that we ought to graduate more business majors to export to other countries to go be their upper middle class managers because that's what white people are for. (Ok, I'm abusing the quote, but he really did think that's what Americans ought to do, and that it doesn't make sense for an American to stay in an engineering position). This is the mentality of the business major at work here.

Anyway, I am about to go back to grad school to get a graduate degree in comp sci, because I love the actual work, but I don't think I'm ever going to like having a job, or that I will ever work for a company that I don't hate. I'm just hoping that spending some more time in grad school will let me figure out an idea I can pursue independently.

We should figure out exactly what the difference in cost is for overseas manufacturing, both human and environmental, and put a big fat protectionist tariff right on it for the difference. I don't care how many wars it starts.
posted by SomeOneElse at 3:54 PM on June 2, 2012 [40 favorites]


Total BS. About 2/3 of us engineering grads are domestic born. The extreme case of caltech is still less than half nonresident alien.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:54 PM on June 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


Reading the headhunter article and the comments says it all:
they all wanted way too much $$ and their skill levels did not seem to be where we needed them to be. So, instead, we ended up hiring 2 Russian engineers as temps, and also joined up with an Indian design company, where we have 4 or 5 more engineers working in India on our project...wanted anywhere from $110 to $150/hour. The Russians are on site and charging us $65 and $75/hour. They are very dedicated and workaholics. The Indians charge us $35/hour..
Glad to see that there are candidates, just expensive candidates.

Ah, the decline started, according to the headhunter:
In my opinion, American schools, starting about 30 years ago, slacked on the technical requirements. USA grade schools and high schools didn’t emphasize technology, so when those students got to college, they were already behind - they couldn’t compete in the technical courses, so they chose a different profession, instead of engineering. Today the USA has a ton of MBA’s. This is good, if partnered with a technical degree. But just a bunch of MBA’s with no technical backgrounds? It takes business know-how to run a successful global company now, but you have to start with technical expertise, or you have nothing to build and sell eventually. And no engineers to create your product.
Well, well does this coincide with the war on the beast that is the government and its services? Could it be that the money is in the MBA? I see plenty of American engineering students mechanical, civil and electrical so I am not sure about the shortage thing.

Also, he couldn't get a student to hack for MONEY at a start up? He was unable to find in all those universities including Standford, Cal and et al. someone who was not willing to work on security. Err, what about Americans who are not in university but you know, have some work experience? Was the geeksploitation that bad that you couldn't get an undergrad to do the work?
posted by jadepearl at 3:55 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


SomeOneElse: last I checked, the IMF quoted the average minimun wage cost of labor (2010) for one chine per year was about 1500 dollars, and in India was about 1000. Expected to increase to 3000 in China by 2015, but I guess the "crisis" lowered that.
posted by elpapacito at 4:00 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are trends that can't be reversed by laughing at them. If you all are concerned, you should be in your garages and at your computers right now coming up with ways to make things that are competitive and more humane. I think some people are willing to completely lose our technical base if it means they can sit back and say, "yeah, well I think this shouldn't be happening" without actually doing anything. I say this as someone who works hard to make sure I'm competitive in 2015, 2020, etc. There's the Ruskin-Chestertonian world I wish we lived in and there's the real one that we actually have to deal with.
posted by michaelh at 4:01 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It will also be interesting to see what happens as the cost of living increases in India and China (seeing as they're both experiencing huge economic booms). At that point, American labor will become relatively cheaper, but I'm not sure what the condition of the country will be.
posted by spiderskull at 4:02 PM on June 2, 2012


A real estate agent I know was contacted by a Chinese manufacturer looking to set up a specialty electronic manufacturing plant in the U.S., so that the final assembly could be done here to avoid high import tariffs for their product. They were looking for a large property in a depressed industrial area, with enough space on site to build worker's dormitories.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:03 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Politicians will start caring when the non-USA factories decide that they fan produce their own execs as well.
posted by drezdn at 4:04 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are trends that can't be reversed by laughing at them. If you all are concerned, you should be in your garages and at your computers right now coming up with ways to make things that are competitive and more humane.

Two concerns:

(a) There are many people trying to innovate. It's not like Americans just decided to stop coming up with better inventions, or stopped trying to be more productive or entrepreneurial.

(b) Everything has to go perfectly before you are in a position where you can go into your garage and spend a reasonably large sum of your savings, as well as make a huge time commitment, such that you can just whip out some competitive product. Privilege underpins just about every American success story, and as the country moves in a direction where that privilege is highly concentrated into a smaller portion of the population, is it any surprise that we're not belting out invention after invention?
posted by spiderskull at 4:06 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


michaelh: "These are trends that can't be reversed by laughing at them."

I believe what is being laughed about is the mythical "trend" that just so happens to sound very much like the old refrain in the 80s about how the Japanese were buying up the entire country. Just because something is reported in the news does not mean it is, or even should be, believed without further investigation.

Every story I read about the "low" job growth over the past couple of days parroted the conventional wisdom and completely failed to critically examine the claims they were reporting. Not only that, but the fact checking took less than 90 seconds. It might take longer if you're on a slow Internet connection.
posted by wierdo at 4:08 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


We need less hand-wringing and more solutions. How do we compete, with our first-world labor laws and environmental regulations?

Wish I had an answer, for my children's sake...
posted by Windopaene at 4:10 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


These are trends that can't be reversed by laughing at them. If you all are concerned, you should be in your garages and at your computers right now coming up with ways to make things that are competitive and more humane. I think some people are willing to completely lose our technical base if it means they can sit back and say, "yeah, well I think this shouldn't be happening" without actually doing anything. I say this as someone who works hard to make sure I'm competitive in 2015, 2020, etc. There's the Ruskin-Chestertonian world I wish we lived in and there's the real one that we actually have to deal with.
This is exactly what I was thinking. I think we would be having a much more interesting discussion here if, instead of raging at Apple, we discussed practical ways these problems could be solved.

For example, cheap labor is certainly part of the reason so much manufacturing happens overseas, but another reason is that the factories and expertise to manage them efficiently is there too. If we ignore that part, we miss an opportunity to learn from the Chinese, just as at times in our history, other countries have learned from us.
posted by !Jim at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given this, it's amazing that they always seem to find capable white male citizens for the upper-management positions.

Our B-schools still produce the world's best assholes.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [24 favorites]


I live in Victoria, a second-tier Canadian city where the tech sector, both in terms of number of jobs and total revenues, has actually doubled over the past ten years to about $2 billion of revenue a year and 13,000 employees.

For the past 3 or 4 years, the Canadian dollar has been at parity with the American dollar, so it's not exactly cheap to do business here. Wages are a little lower than the States (the median wage of a developer with 5 years of experience is $65,000 a year).

In terms of the actual technologies that are produced here, it's a wide mix, from ecommerce and online marketing platforms (we're a hub for affiliate marketing) to social gaming, to signal processing and marine technologies. A lot of companies sell highly specialized, value-added products with high per-unit prices to the American government.

We don't manufacture much here - products are designed and marketed in Victoria, but manufacturing occurs elsewhere, typically in China, but also in other parts of Canada with highly efficient lines.

There's actually a skills shortage here - we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada.

What are we doing that is so different than in the States?
posted by KokuRyu at 4:17 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


!Jim: "For example, cheap labor is certainly part of the reason so much manufacturing happens overseas, but another reason is that the factories and expertise to manage them efficiently is there too. If we ignore that part, we miss an opportunity to learn from the Chinese, just as at times in our history, other countries have learned from us."

The factories and expertise to run them are not there because we somehow magically lost the ability to produce goods in a factory after 1960. They are there because of lax (and arguably abusive) environmental and labor laws that make it ridiculously inexpensive to run a factory there.

There is a simple solution, but as I alluded to earlier, our betters have decided that their bottom line is more important than those issues or even the welfare of their own country, or even their company's own long term survival. We are pretty much feeding ourselves to the Chinese. That we have only lost one leg and one arm up to this point is an official miracle. Free trade uber alles!

It also doesn't help that in several industries the Chinese are blatantly dumping goods.

Seriously, the thing to do here is to enact tariffs, but only to the extent that their lower environmental and labor standards make the goods unnaturally cheap. I suspect that we would have much more success in competition if the playing field was not tilted against us much the same way as government policy is tilted against the middle class, which now has the right wing yelling at them for "being too lazy," when in reality their declining standard of living is directly caused by government policies that make it so. This article is just more of the same shit, just worded slightly differently.
posted by wierdo at 4:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


We already have workers prepared for the dormitories. Look at Amazon's treatment of their warehouse contractors.

I'm not so sure you'd need dormitories in the US anyway, with the amount of people willing to drive for a job. There is a woman in town that drives 40 miles one way for a job at a barbecue joint.
posted by narcoleptic at 4:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


In mandymanwasregistered's quoted answer.... why on earth did it have to be a new grad? Pay seems like the only reason.

Additionally, did they consider asking at schools with a lower percentage of foreign undergraduates? Say, one not in the Bay Area?


You answered your own question. They didn't look outside the Bay Area because they weren't going to pay and relocated from somewhere else. And it wasn't patriotism that kept them from sponsoring visas for foreign nationals, it was the cost and resources.

They probably would have more US citizen applicants if they paid more.

What I don't like about the framing of the interview with the mystery headhunter was it started with the quote about manufacturing jobs disappearing (the first link) but w/o mentioning it in his own article. Just "high tech jobs" as if the employment in the Valley has shrank by a quarter. And then the interview talks about the employment for engineers still being here, but they can only find foreigners to work.

It sounds exactly what the agribusiness says about jobs working the fields. They'd love to hire US citizens to work but there's no applicants so they're forced to hire immigrants.

The difference between engineering and working in the hot sun picking fruit is the engineering jobs can stay in Asia and companies here can have the same cost benefits they get from foreign production. You don't need to be physically sitting at a desk in Cupertino to write code for HP or Apple. When an American wants $100/hr and someone in China/India/Russia/etc wants less for the same calibre of work (and can deliver it), America is screwed.

Border fences and tariffs can't protect from that. What we need is to get back to making math and science a core strength. But in some states they're arguing about teaching the creation myth alongside science.
posted by birdherder at 4:20 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Jeez, American workers suck so bad. They should try to suck a little less so Apple isn't forced to use Chinese slave labor and then have the New York Times print its press releases about it.

Forget labor costs, the whole supply chain is over in China now. They couldn't build iPhones in the US even if they wanted to, because all the parts are made in China. We destroyed our entire high tech manufacturing base, and it would take decades to rebuild it, even if we made it a nation project, too.

America as a manufacturing country is over, and it's not coming back any time soon, barring some kind of apocalypse in China, Korea and Japan.

That was why saving the car companies was such a big deal. If the suppliers and factories shut down, those jobs would never come back. It's a chicken and egg thing -- if you don't have parts manufacturers, you can't build cars, and if you don't have a car manufacturer, you can't sell parts.
posted by empath at 4:20 PM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


There are many people trying to innovate. It's not like Americans just decided to stop coming up with better inventions, or stopped trying to be more productive or entrepreneurial.

Plenty of Americans are innovating. They're just innovating new ways to exploit third world labor and the just-in-time supply chain in China.
posted by empath at 4:22 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The US has lost a quarter of its high-tech jobs since 2000?

You don't say.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:28 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter threads on American manufacturing are always the same:

We've spent the better part of two decades gutting our manufacturing infrastructure and reinforcing the notion that manufacturing jobs, of any type, are for losers and now we are reaping what we have sown. Welcome to the service economy kids, try to stay healthy, buy lottery tickets and pray for a reality show.

A little later:

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

If treating people whowork in your factories like this is what it takes for Apple to be "great" and "successful", maybe Apple should be a little less "great". I have a very difficult time believing that it is a net good for the world that the new iPhones are not a second late to market when it requires factories whose "employees" are effectively plantation slaves.


Which leads me to think that people here don't want manufacturing jobs. We want an oddly nostalgic job market where the US is still the large, intact postwar power in a world of war torn western nations, and a largely agrarian rest of the planet. We're all for progress in backward nations of dirt farmers, except when it means those assembly lines of fat and happy Americans go extinct.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:41 PM on June 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


What are we doing that is so different than in the States?

Health care, a more equitable taxation regime, and a political system that is less broken - less the deliberate target of a war by wealth - than ours.
posted by mwhybark at 4:45 PM on June 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


A real estate agent I know was contacted by a Chinese manufacturer looking to set up a specialty electronic manufacturing plant in the U.S., so that the final assembly could be done here to avoid high import tariffs for their product. They were looking for a large property in a depressed industrial area, with enough space on site to build worker's dormitories.

I've been wondering for a while now whether or not worker dorms for factories could be viable in the US. My guess is not, or at least not without offering hardship wages or hiring non-free workers (like felons on work-release). A lot of oilfield and other remote work is done on a rotating basis (often two weeks on, two weeks off); I could imagine wanting to run a factory like that to maximize flexibility and shift overlaps.
posted by Forktine at 4:46 PM on June 2, 2012


Which leads me to think that people here don't want manufacturing jobs. We want an oddly nostalgic job market where the US is still the large, intact postwar power in a world of war torn western nations, and a largely agrarian rest of the planet. We're all for progress in backward nations of dirt farmers, except when it means those assembly lines of fat and happy Americans go extinct.

Well, I dunno, it seems to me some people are oddly nostalgic for labor practices that we actually outlawed because they were totally fucked up and inhuman. But productive! Ever so productive, barring the occasional revolution. Going to countries where it's still okay to wipe your ass with a human being is a solution, sure, but is it a good one?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:49 PM on June 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


It's interesting that the Chicago Trib article leads with a definition of high tech jobs starting with aerospace and pharmaceuticals. A lot of the aerospace industry was diversified into countries around the world, to help sell them on partially "locally" built aircraft. Now manufacturers like Boeing are pulling it back in-house since it lost big money. And of course Big Pharma went offshore due to tax incentives (no wonder Bill Gates has major stock positions in Big Pharma).

The high tech thing, not so much. I guess situations like this are always going to use Apple as an example. I still remember the first issue of MacWorld, which was basically an Apple promotional item since all news was still embargoed when the magazine was produced. Apple said it went to great lengths to set up a new assembly line. The innovation I remember most vividly was requiring vendors to deliver subassemblies on pallets designed for Apple's production line, rather than shipping them in styrofoam packaging and requiring a two step unpacking-repalletizing step. This saved tons of labor and also waste disposal fees. But supposedly the whole Mac assembly line in Cupertino was an entirely new process.

So Apple has spent decades trying to shave down manufacturing costs. It's worth noting that Apple's first overseas manufacturing facility was in Ireland. It has a unique position due to tax advantages in Ireland, as well as serving the European market. But eventually the tax advantages could not compete with other advantages in Asia and most of the manufacturing has left Cork, although they do still build high end products like the Mac Pro. Perhaps Cork is sort of a middle ground between US and China.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:50 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're all for progress in backward nations of dirt farmers, except when it means those assembly lines of fat and happy Americans go extinct.

That's exactly what I think, do you think it is wrong to think that? I would have left off "fat" because it is needless USA bashing but I'm totally behind the basic sentiment.

What's the alternative mentality, to relish the demise of the possibility of a decent lifestyle for the average person so that our increasingly plutocratic society can export cheaper arms and censorship technologies to autocracies?

I'm willing to acknowledge that factory work isn't going to be pleasant even if the people involved are treated decently, I'm realistic about the fact that industrial jobs have an environmental cost. I've done some (very little) shift work in an actual American factory with a goddamn flag waving behind me while I built America and everything. I can't understand a person who thinks that that lifestyle was an unrealistic pipe dream that we should have known couldn't last, right off the ground it doesn't make sense.

What do you think that "wanting manufacturing jobs" looks like?
posted by SomeOneElse at 4:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've got nothing against 24 hour factories--but pay for three shifts of workers if you want a 24-hour factory; or follow those industries Forktine mentions and allow workers a two week on/two week off schedule. Don't force your workers to live at the factory so you can rouse them at management's whim to create a wholly unnecessary consumer good to increase its status with an upgrade. We're no longer cranking out munitions to save the world against evil dictators. We're making fucking cell phone upgrades.

We create first world problems (OMG! My new iPhone is delayed!) on the backs of third-world dignity and then shame American industry by saying we don't want "it" enough. Which we demonstrate by allowing our workers the liberty to have lives outside the factory, by expecting our employers to provide safe working conditions, by refusing to allow our children to work in factories or pick through junk piles for high tech trash.

I stand by my original statement that maybe we ought to define "success" or "greatness" in a company as something other than requiring great sacrifice from the people who make the least from the profit or success of the company.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:54 PM on June 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


I don't really understand the objection to Chinese or Indians or Albanians or Ghanaians coming here and taking "our" jobs. (Offshoring is a different story.) It was dumb luck that I was born here and I don't have the aptitude to be an engineer. If someone else wants to do that, make a lot of money, pay taxes for the infrastructure I use everyday and stick around, be my guest. Especially if they become citizens. They are contributing to society. Engineers and other high tech folks aren't likely to require government benefits or commit crimes. The company I work for has tons and tons of Indian engineers here in Milwaukee of all places. I don't have to work directly with them, so we rarely socialize, but why should I be resentful of their existence because of where they were born and their skin color?
posted by desjardins at 5:05 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've had two jobs since graduating as a software engineering major, and I'm a white, male, US citizen. An effective, miserable, cynical, rule of thumb is that if you are working alongside immigrants, your job will not be pleasant.

Uh, wow. What?

I work at a medium-small web company in San Francisco and some of the brightest and friendliest people I work with are immigrants.

How about not treating engineers like dirt, expecting a business major self promotional personality and taking full advantage of anybody who doesn't possess it? The last layoff I witnessed hit almost entirely US citizens of 40 years or more who hadn't reached management. Immigrants and younger ppl (like myself) were spared because we're cheap. I don't know what this article is talking about. I wouldn't recommend software to anybody unless they think they have a viable business idea that they can get off the ground entirely by themselves.

Okay, now I really want to know where you've been working.
posted by spitefulcrow at 5:06 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm fine with manufacturing and engineering jobs leaving the U.S., but I wish they were going to newly reasonably free socialist South American nations rather than horribly exploitive China.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:07 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


American companies could find more useful American employees by hiring promising high school graduates and paying them low wages in exchange for skipping college and getting on-the-job training (maybe with some job-specific night classes, but not general studies). A lot of people already go to college mainly to get a job, so... skip college and get a job. In four years, you'd be the boss of the people who spent those four years racking up college debt, assuming your company decided to hire college graduates at all. You wouldn't know a damn thing about anything outside your profession, but neither do most college graduates. When you needed a new job, you'd have four extra years of relevant experience on your resume rather than a vaguely relevant degree; the experience would win in most cases.

And is there really a choice? How are you going to afford super-expensive college degrees and still earn low enough wages to compete with foreign workers?

Skip college, future techie Americans. Your corporations need you hungry and debt-free now, not after you've accrued crushing debt, bad habits, and a smidgen of general knowledge you're going to forget in a year.
posted by pracowity at 5:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


birdherder: "They didn't look outside the Bay Area because they weren't going to pay and relocated from somewhere else."

Is it usual for recent grads to ask for (much less receive) a relocation package if they accept a job in another city? I thought it was pretty normal for someone to go to school somewhere and then move either back home or to whatever city they felt like they wanted to live in or could find a job in.

2N2222: "Which leads me to think that people here don't want manufacturing jobs. We want an oddly nostalgic job market where the US is still the large, intact postwar power in a world of war torn western nations, and a largely agrarian rest of the planet."

Yes, expecting that other countries treat their workers like human beings and not pollute as if it is 1890 if they want to sell their goods to us is asking so terribly, terribly much. No, I think we have every reason to encourage them to raise their standards, and I think making their goods cost the same either way is a good way to do it.

Obviously, this has fuck all to do with information work, but that's a problem that largely sorts itself out as incomes rise overseas due to wage equalization in such fields, which enriches everyone and doesn't do much to us. There already are plenty of people in smaller cities doing the described work for the apparently terribly low offshored price. $100 an hour to $75 an hour over a period of time is not nearly as terrible as going from $25 or more to less than $10.

Back on manufacturing, this talk about the US being somehow doomed in manufacturing is completely ridiculous. We still have a strong manufacturing base. It is not nearly as large as it used to be, and some important components of it have shut down due to Chinese dumping making our facilities uncompetitive, but a lot of manufacturing still goes on here.
posted by wierdo at 5:15 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


An effective, miserable, cynical, rule of thumb is that if you are working alongside immigrants, your job will not be pleasant.

As an immigrant, I hope you hate every minute of it.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:18 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


I've been wondering for a while now whether or not worker dorms for factories could be viable in the US. My guess is not

Not quite dorms but a locally based printing company did build apartments near one of its plants. That way you can lose your job and become homeless in one easy step...
posted by MikeMc at 5:19 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everything has to go perfectly before you are in a position where you can go into your garage and spend a reasonably large sum of your savings, as well as make a huge time commitment, such that you can just whip out some competitive product.

It's not necessary to have a great deal of time and money to try new things. Feel free to MeMail me about wha you're stuck on. You're certainly right that not enough people feel they can try to improve things. If it's something privileged people do, then as a privileged person you are even more responsible to do your part since you think others can't, and someone has to.
posted by michaelh at 5:27 PM on June 2, 2012


Skip college, future techie Americans. Your corporations need you hungry and debt-free now, not after you've accrued crushing debt, bad habits, and a smidgen of general knowledge you're going to forget in a year.

Sure, that's what we really need, more techies with no knowledge of history, culture or the world outside of TV and video games at all. That's a real recipe for fucking awesome.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:28 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


Clarification - because places that employ immigrants take advantage of them, not because immigrants are not good people. Apologies if that wasn't obvious given the rest of my post, but I do maintain that places I've seen which hire immigrants do it because they can pay them less. If that still offends you, then oh well.
posted by SomeOneElse at 5:29 PM on June 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


One factor that isn't being talked about here is the fact that China does not allow its currency to float. They peg the Renminbi/Yuan to a "basket" of currencies and allow it to be traded only in a very narrow range of fluctuation. This fixed exchange rate keeps the price of Chinese goods artificially low. If the Yuan were traded like the Dollar or Euro you would likely see a double digit increase in the cost of Chinese goods as the currency increased in value against the Dollar.
posted by MikeMc at 5:30 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


What do you think that "wanting manufacturing jobs" looks like?

"Wanting manufacturing jobs" looks like a stint of peering at the past with rose colored glasses. There is nothing inherently special about manufacturing... unless manufacturing jobs look like the remarkably desirable and high paying jobs that existed when the US was almost alone on the globe being a manufacturing powerhouse.

Yes, expecting that other countries treat their workers like human beings and not pollute as if it is 1890 if they want to sell their goods to us is asking so terribly, terribly much. No, I think we have every reason to encourage them to raise their standards, and I think making their goods cost the same either way is a good way to do it.


This line of thinking always seems to oversell the misery and understate the benefits to both the workers and the customers. Where this argument fails is that manufacturing needs to find the most economically viable means to remain in business. If it's wrong to go overseas, wouldn't it also be wrong to move from, say California to Texas? After all, think of all the jobs and tax base lost in California when wages and regulations in Texas are so much lower.

Despite the handwringing, US manufacturing seems to be fairly strong, at least partly because it doesn't need to employ the hordes of people it used to. A little perspective found here and here.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:37 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what a "high-tech manufacturing job" is, or how it is different from a normal manufacturing job. But I don't think it's usually what people think of as a "high-tech" job, which is an engineer or a scientist.

I graduated with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2010, and the conditions being claimed here don't really jibe with my experience as an American recently entering the 'high-tech' workforce. This fellow who had a hard time finding an American new grad 'security hacker' probably just wasn't paying enough; computer engineers are quite simply in very high demand, despite the condition of the rest of the economy. All of my friends from school in technical fields, especially in CS & Computer Engineering, are doing great, graduating straight into upper-middle-class salaries.

My engineering classes were probably about 1/3 white, 1/3 East Asian, and 1/3 South Asian. But a lot of those Asians were, of course, American citizens. When the "anonymous recruiter" says, "When we asked computer science professors for help, asking which students they would recommend, they sent us all foreign names", how does he define 'foreign names'? There's no way to determine how 'foreign' someone is from their name, seeing as this is a country consisting of immigrants from all over the world.

Is it usual for recent grads to ask for (much less receive) a relocation package if they accept a job in another city? I thought it was pretty normal for someone to go to school somewhere and then move either back home or to whatever city they felt like they wanted to live in or could find a job in.
It's been part of the offer for both of my post-college jobs, and for most of my friends in engineering. If the 'anonymous recruiter' is trying to get engineers without even offering a relocation package, they probably were simply underpaying for what they wanted. A capable new grad in the Bay Area probably expects close to six figures.
posted by akgerber at 5:40 PM on June 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


High-tech manufacturing. That last word matters.

This bears repeating. In the Bay area software sector, people are fighting tooth and nail for talent. I mean, among my friends, it's almost become kind of a joke to say, "By the way, we're hiring" because we're ALL hiring, but none of us are looking because we all recently got new jobs.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:43 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


One factor that isn't being talked about here is the fact that China does not allow its currency to float. They peg the Renminbi/Yuan to a "basket" of currencies and allow it to be traded only in a very narrow range of fluctuation. This fixed exchange rate keeps the price of Chinese goods artificially low. If the Yuan were traded like the Dollar or Euro you would likely see a double digit increase in the cost of Chinese goods as the currency increased in value against the Dollar.

That is an interesting factor. Chinese currency may very well be less attractive if allowed to float as the market sees fit. However, it's not quite the dire situation it always seems made out to be. Another way to look at it is that China is subsidizing goods for consumers in the US, and all around the globe, which benefits us at the potential expense of the Chinese citizen.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:43 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, that's what we really need, more techies with no knowledge of history, culture or the world outside of TV and video games at all. That's a real recipe for fucking awesome.

As if only people who go to college have any intellectual curiosity or enjoys reading.

Clarification - because places that employ immigrants take advantage of them, not because immigrants are not good people.

And we take advantage of the employer's bargaining position in turn. I have no problem walking off a job if it's unsafe or abusive, and I like haggling over pay - I would much rather negotiate directly with an employer rather than in some collective fashion. Fair exchange is no robbery as far as I am concerned.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:45 PM on June 2, 2012


I stand by my original statement that maybe we ought to define "success" or "greatness" in a company as something other than requiring great sacrifice from the people who make the least from the profit or success of the company.

I think you're on to something. A great company should lift up those who toil the most for its profits fastest, recognizing its obligations to those masses without whom they couldn't produce a thing; those who fill the more glamorous, inherently socially rewarding (i.e., high status) jobs are already getting non-monetary rewards and aren't proportionally in as great a demand, in terms of positions per qualified candidate--sure, pay a good manager a little more than a typical, entry-level line worker, but not much more--within a standard deviation from the average of the average and the median, say--and pay the glorified project admins in the lower tiers of middle management a little less than the average line worker.

If economic demand for a good or service justifies high executive salaries, it should justify comparably generous production worker salaries. After all, the market isn't demanding high paid managers--it's demanding whatever good or service those managers merely help to produce. But getting the titans of wall street to worship that hypothetical kind of company--i.e., one that truly offers maximum value to society and the world, rather than just whoever happens to be sitting on the highest economic perch at the time already, isn't going to happen anytime soon.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:56 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't really understand the objection to Chinese or Indians or Albanians or Ghanaians coming here and taking "our" jobs.

Not a problem except that foreign tech workers hired by U.S. companies should immediately be given a green card rather than the H-1B visas they are given now.

H-1B visas essentially create indentured servants that depress the wages of native workers. An H-1B must immediately leave the country if they lose or quit their job. Their spouse is not allowed to work. Their current employer can drag them along for years with the possibility of a green card. Because of these restrictions, they are at the mercy of their employer and can be paid less than market wages. H-1Bs just drive down the wages for everyone. On the other hand, if an immigrant worker has a green card, they are free to change jobs and compete for higher wages or better working conditions. Give them a green card and eliminate H-1Bs.
posted by JackFlash at 6:01 PM on June 2, 2012 [43 favorites]


I'm trying to hire for software engineers in San Francisco, would hire 5 on Monday if anyone vaguely qualified submitted a resume for $100k jobs.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:03 PM on June 2, 2012


I guess senior execs could earn a little more, still, than the departmental mgmt--but generally, not so much that they completely bust the pricing curve and cause consumer credit sustained inflation.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:04 PM on June 2, 2012


Seriously, the thing to do here is to enact tariffs, but only to the extent that their lower environmental and labor standards make the goods unnaturally cheap.

Western European countries would then of course enact similar tariffs on the United States because of your weaker workplace protections. Surely that's fair.
posted by atrazine at 6:07 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's silicon valley and then there's everywhere else. I'd agree that companies are eager to not pay US workers when they can offshore things for 1/10 the price, but I've also seen some of what the writer is talking about.

H1Bs require that US companies prove that they've searched in the US for candidates and come up unsuccesful. Either companies are skipping that and the law isnt being enforced, or the situation is More complicated, possibly because offshoring is so commonplace that the pull to get advanced degrees just isn't there.
posted by destro at 6:08 PM on June 2, 2012


2N2222: "If it's wrong to go overseas, wouldn't it also be wrong to move from, say California to Texas? After all, think of all the jobs and tax base lost in California when wages and regulations in Texas are so much lower. "

It's not wrong to go overseas, it's wrong to go overseas to evade what we consider to be baseline standards in this country. Similarly, it's not wrong to move from California to Texas, unless that move involves millions of dollars of taxpayer money being funneled into your pocket to do so, as is nearly universal in the case of large companies now.

The issue, as I see it, is that we allow companies to take advantage of the silent subsidy that poor working conditions and lax environmental standards really are. We have no more reason to allow companies that desire access to our market to do that elsewhere than we have to allow it here here.

If other countries outcompete us by being more efficient or whatever, that is what it is, we clearly need to find other things to do. If they do it by paying substandard wages (on a PPP basis, obviously), requiring employees submit to abusive work practices, and having little to no environmental controls, that's a horse of a different color.

We can't make everyone use our standards as a minimum, nor should we. We can choose to not allow dumping by another name in our markets, however. We should not force our choices on others, but there's no reason we have to allow others to force theirs on us. We should be a force for human rights and development in the entire world. What better way to do that than giving everyone a strong incentive to meet our standards? While we are by no means perfect, in these areas we are inarguably better than most, even though we are laggards in our immediate peer group.
posted by wierdo at 6:11 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to hire for software engineers in San Francisco, would hire 5 on Monday if anyone vaguely qualified submitted a resume for $100k jobs.

Hiring software engineers is hard. I've talked for a long time with recruiters at major tech companies — some amazingly talented people who would find the diamonds in rough missed by the other major tech companies.

I remember one girl who worked for Google explaining to me how she would forego the usual resume keyword search, and find people who had demonstrated the abstract skills that were needed on open source projects, etc. etc. It was astounding to hear her talk — a person without a math or computer science degree — about linux and open source, and kernel this and that. And that was just finding the people. She still had to convince them to interview by appealing for example to their love of challenge or having an impact on a major product that, etc.

Hiring software engineers is hard.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do test engineering for mixed signal semiconductors (last few chips I worked on do LED lighting and handle battery charging for cell phones) and the quality of engineers available in East, South and SE Asia is dramatically lower than here for people doing the same jobs based on personal experience. This doesn't stop companies from trying, though, given how much cheaper the labor is. The group I work for has already had to outright redo a couple of projects that were outsourced to a company in India.

This is less true for chip design for some reason. Chip design is a higher end job than what I do and there are a lot of excellent chip designers in China.
posted by MillMan at 6:16 PM on June 2, 2012


As an American of Chinese descent who is currently studying in a graduate management program in the Greater China region, here's my general take on the situation.

In regards to Foxconn and dormitories, it was something that made sense in the context of how labor works in China given that many factory workers are migrants who go to the factories for work with little intention of actually settling down in the factory's city. In the US you saw similar factory towns but in the US things were different. The current generation of Chinese working in the factories (the post-80s) has been taught that financial stability is one of the first priorities in life, and many young couples will not even consider marriage (much less children) if the man does not own a house.

This makes it so that the US version of the factory town, cannot really exist. Even if you wanted to relocate a family to one of these towns there are no schools to send your kids to.

There are a lot of comparisons to indentured servitude that get brought up in these threads which I think takes things a bit too far. Labor in China relatively mobile. Workers have a long vacation during Chinese New Year, many of them choose not to return to the same company after they come back. Wages have been increasing so that factories can stay competitive in regards to employees, this has been exacerbated by the One-Child Policy and the fewer number of young workers available in this generation.

Don't get me wrong, most Americans would still find the working conditions to be bad, but as an alternative to the extreme poverty of some the countryside Chinese factory work for an export-oriented factory is a undeniable step up. Of course, the cheaper wages and looser envrionmental standards do give China an advantage, but nowadays most international companies with factories in China force the factories to adhere to a set of environmental and labor standards. Passing laws that set a minimum standard and tariffs on companies that do not adhere to those standards could make the American worker more competitive.

While it would even the playing field, China still does have a set of massive advantages under its belt. As jeffburdges asked above, why is it that China has been able to capture so much manufacturing when compared with, say, the Latin American countries? There are three reasons that I can think of:

1. Central planning and lots of capital: The CCP has invested massively in infrastructure. It's not enough to have an empty plot of land for a factory and the able hands needed to assemble the parts, that factory is going to need running water and electricity. This is something that's lacking in a lot of other emerging markets. China has the infrastructure to support these factories and has been investing a lot of its surplus in rolling out the infrastructure to other rural regions.

2. A lot of poor people: China is currently the world's second largest economy, roughly about half of the US's, but has four times as many people. GDP per capita is about USD$5500 per person. If you offer wages of about USD$7000 per year in China you will have tens of thousands of people applying for jobs at your factory. Even with standards and tariffs, it's pretty hard to compete with that level of poverty.

3. Factory work as a means to an end: Keep in mind that most Chinese are not planning on doing factory work for the rest of their lives, many of them use the higher factory wages to save for a house so they can get married and also to start a business back home as they get older. They don't mind putting in longer hours under poorer working conditions in their twenties so that they have enough capital to pursue more of what they want to do in their mid to late thirties.

Personally, I think that this fixation on Foxconn and consumer electronics manufacturing is a bit misguided. Too much of the supply chain is currently in East Asia which would mean you would be forced to ship components in from Taiwan and Korea and reship many of them back to East Asia for retail. I suppose you could try to build components here, but the powerhouses in that industry are well-established and very advanced. Competing with the likes of TSMC would not be very easy or very profitable, as far as I can see. If the US wants to remain competitive in the manufacturing sector, it should probably stick with products where the margin is there, such as high-quality luxury goods, cars, or heavy industry.
posted by C^3 at 6:38 PM on June 2, 2012 [21 favorites]


Sure, that's what we really need, more techies with no knowledge of history, culture or the world outside of TV and video games at all. That's a real recipe for fucking awesome.

Yeah, I don't think that college helps a substantial amount of techies break out of that bubble. Worse, it could introduce them to Ron Paul.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:46 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Um, "wanting manufacturing jobs" looks like wanting a non-service job with an education that ends at high-school (or even community college). Manufacturing jobs, especially high tech ones, generally pay better and have better benefits that construction or service jobs, which are often the only other alternatives. Mfr'ing has a much higher incentive to retain employees that they've put the time in to training and is more likely to be a large enough company to offer decent health insurance and such.

At least, this is what I've observed through my younger brother's experience. Sure, he hates the manufacturing jobs. They're really tedious. But they sure as hell beat washing dishes and they're much more reliable than the odd dry-walling stint.
posted by maryr at 7:00 PM on June 2, 2012


A US made iPhone would give Apple 46% profit margins according to the Centre for Research of Socio-Cultural Change (cited by the Guardian).

Inc.com point out the Asian Development Bank Institute's claim that Apple could manufacture iPhones in the US then sell them for $500 and have a 50% profit margin (pdf).

It all comes down to what is 'enough'.
posted by knapah at 7:03 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


American companies could find more useful American employees by hiring promising high school graduates and paying them low wages in exchange for skipping college and getting on-the-job training (maybe with some job-specific night classes, but not general studies). A lot of people already go to college mainly to get a job, so... skip college and get a job. In four years, you'd be the boss of the people who spent those four years racking up college debt, assuming your company decided to hire college graduates at all. You wouldn't know a damn thing about anything outside your profession, but neither do most college graduates.

I wasn't alive then, but I am told that this is more or less what large US corporations did in the 1950s and 1960s (for white men only, of course). They would hire and train, and offer lifetime employment with decent benefits; in exchange people stayed in one job even if it wasn't all that exciting, accepted racial and gender based hiring restrictions, and generally lived the good midcentury life. From my perspective there are good aspects to that (such as the relative equality between employees and CEOs compared to today) but also things that aren't so great.
posted by Forktine at 7:23 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


We destroyed our entire high tech manufacturing base, and it would take decades to rebuild it, even if we made it a nation project, too.

It's not just high tech. My company's packaging vendor just told us that there isn't enough capacity in the entire US to meet our projected growth rates for next year. So now we'll have to go to China, because we can't just stop acquiring customers.

That's what manufacturing flexibility means. Yes, in theory, Apple could make iPhones here and still be profitable. But it practice, it would have taken years to build the manufacturing capacity to meet the demand, and you simply can't wait that long. In China, there are tons of factories with every kind of equipment you need and gleaming floors, waiting to make whatever you want. (Granted, they'll outsource it to the sketchy cheap place across town as soon as they get the order, but that's another story).
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:01 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


knapah: The details are a bit scant on the article that you linked to, but I'll assume that the $178.45 figure that they came up with as the cost of raw materials and labor for the iPhone since it's similar to other figures I've seen that only count raw materials and labor.

That means that the "profit" from each iPhone does not include R&D and sales and marketing costs. From Apple's 2011 financial statement (pg 35), those take up about 9% of Apple's sales. So 46% profit in your example would be knocked down to about 37%, which would be average to high for a consumer electronics company.

This would be a problem given that Apple takes pretty big risks pretty often when it comes to new product launches. Apple's had a hot streak for the past 10 years or so, the only new product I can remember of theirs that hasn't really paid off has been the Apple TV, but from recent news it seems like they're still trying to do something with it. If Apple became a company with average margins, then it would probably be more like Samsung's consumer electronics division or HTC. Those companies have always played it more conservatively and only stepped into markets where the demand has been well-established because they can't afford to do anything too risky.

I've never really understood the halo and the expectations around Apple in particular...it would seem that Jobs himself felt that squeezing every last cent out of your profit margins would be a better way to keep the company successful as opposed to innovation. Why else would you pick the head of operations and your supply chain to lead the company?
posted by C^3 at 8:04 PM on June 2, 2012


Hi. I'm a high-tech worker. I've worked with Chinese and Indian and Pakistani and Russian high-tech workers. I've also worked with Trinidadians and Mexicans and black guys from Roxbury and Dorchester.

Care to guess which ethnicity was the most bad-ass? Gwan. Guess.

No, you're wrong.

Which is kind of the point.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:10 PM on June 2, 2012


I've been wondering for a while now whether or not worker dorms for factories could be viable in the US.

They used to be. They were called company towns.

Then we got unions and developed a middle class and company towns went out of vogue, we didn't need them anymore.

Now the only reason for a middle calss is to buy all the products that the giant corporations need to sell to maintain their dominant position.

I suspect that they are betting that China and India will develop a middle class to sustain demand before the US middle class disappears.

I am guessing they have made a bad bet. Wait until the majority of us figure out the real plan. It will make the Occupy movement seem like a 4th of July parade.
posted by mygoditsbob at 8:10 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been wondering for a while now whether or not worker dorms for factories could be viable in the US.

This was basically what Fort McMurray, Alberta was like until a couple of years ago; trailers, temporary housing and people sleeping in hotels and driving in every day. There was absolutely nothing to do in town and it was not a place for families.

The only difference is it wasn't manufacturing, it was drilling, but the culture of 12+ hour days of backbreaking labour, sometimes dangerous conditions? That exists in North America.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 8:21 PM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nothing about "manufacturing" applies to silicon valley. The only physical thing that we make here are Teslas. The high-tech industry here employs people who design things, and who write software to run on those things, but not people who build them. It's disingenuous to conflate these things.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:02 PM on June 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


In regards to Foxconn and dormitories, it was something that made sense in the context of how labor works in China given that many factory workers are migrants who go to the factories for work with little intention of actually settling down in the factory's city...
...Even if you wanted to relocate a family to one of these towns there are no schools to send your kids to.

This ignores the household registration policy, which would not have allowed them to settle there even if they had so desired. That's only recently been relaxed somewhat in second-tier and lower cities.
Migrant worker children are excluded from schools in the major metropolises by the levying of an extra fee on children not registered within the local jurisdiction, and this goes on even where there have been falling rolls due to the impact of family planning policy.


Don't get me wrong, most Americans would still find the working conditions to be bad, but as an alternative to the extreme poverty of some the countryside Chinese factory work for an export-oriented factory is a undeniable step up.

The continuing poverty of many parts of the Chinese countryside is in large part a result of central policy that has consistently favoured industrial development and the coastal areas since 1949. Not only is there a lack of investment in rural infrastructure and services, it's in fact a net exporter of capital to the cities (see Wen Tiejun's work etc.), even if you count what few central aid programmes there are.
Despite this, it was very noticeable that when rural taxes and fees were abolished in the mid-2000s, there was an immediate drop-off in out-migration from rural areas and the first rumblings about labour shortages in the Pearl River delta etc. The implication was that even half a chance of making a go of it back home was preferable to heading hundreds or thousands of kilometres away to be treated like dirt, even though earnings would still have been higher as a migrant factory worker. This shift in the dynamic is another factor behind the wage rises seen in the last year or so.
posted by Abiezer at 9:03 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


An effective, miserable, cynical, rule of thumb is that if you are working alongside immigrants, your job will not be pleasant.

As an immigrant, I hope you hate every minute of it.


I'm pretty sure the point of this comment was "immigrants get the bad jobs".
posted by zvs at 9:52 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing about "manufacturing" applies to silicon valley. The only physical thing that we make here are Teslas.

Hey, there's still aerospace and defense. Lockheed Martin in Sunnyvale and Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto build satellites. Lockheed also does missile-related work at that facility, and Northrop Grumman still builds turbines for the U.S. Navy in Sunnyvale. All are among their cities' top ten employers. But I'll agree, the numbers are still pretty heavily outweighed by the number of software jobs in the region.
posted by sigmagalator at 9:57 PM on June 2, 2012


Jeez, American workers suck so bad. They should try to suck a little less so Apple isn't forced to use Chinese slave labor and then have the New York Times print its press releases about it.

...

Hiring software engineers is hard.

The thing is, both sides are right in this case.

I've lost track of the number of times I've seen some version of this story in a newspaper editorial or article in the past few decades. Jesus, it really has been appearing for decades now.

It usually correlates directly with lobbying for increasing the number of H-1B visas available to employers. Funny that.

But they're also right, because the quality of US CS graduates right now is utter shit. I know there are talented engineers on here, I'm talking about the average phone screens that I've been burning through the past few months.

What? You can't think of any common data structures off the top of your head? You don't know what the average look-up time in a hash table is (given sufficient buckets, low load, etc.)? Binary search tree (balanced)?

Is it usual for recent grads to ask for (much less receive) a relocation package if they accept a job in another city?

For the big tech companies (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.) and even most of the hotter startups, it's a standard part of the position. If you get an offer from them, it will include a generous relocation package.

I didn't notice it as much before, but it seems to me there's a growing divide between the demand for talent in the tech industry and the job seekers on the market. That doesn't mean that management isn't out to screw workers by outsourcing, paying crap wages in some companies, and overworking engineers in most of them.
posted by formless at 10:12 PM on June 2, 2012


We need less hand-wringing and more solutions. How do we compete, with our first-world labor laws and environmental regulations?

Wish I had an answer, for my children's sake...


The answers aren't that difficult. The problems are things like inertia, corruption, vested interests, etc.
For example, something that would make US companies hugely more competitive overnight - simply remove the burden of being gouged for (crappy) employee healthcare, do it by switching to a national healthcare system, like other countries. It's obvious as anything this is a problem for US companies and hiring. But is anyone going to fix it? Nope.

Everybody knows...
posted by -harlequin- at 10:32 PM on June 2, 2012


I'm not sure what a "high-tech manufacturing job" is, or how it is different from a normal manufacturing job. But I don't think it's usually what people think of as a "high-tech" job, which is an engineer or a scientist.

I've worked in a "high-tech manufacturing job". One of my coworkers would save his farts, make his way over to someone's assembly area, pretending to have a question, then let it go. Farts were a common topic of conversation.

In some ways, the machines we built were more impressive than the people assembling them :)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:47 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


We create first world problems (OMG! My new iPhone is delayed!) on the backs of third-world dignity and then shame American industry by saying we don't want "it" enough

Hey, it's more than the first world that uses cell phones, and it's more than just cell phones being made. The iPhone has sold millions, but the Nokia candy bar phones, which combined have hundreds of millions, if not a billion sold have been used across the world. And the large numbers made were possible because of the scale of supply and manufacturing achieved by countries like China.

Yes, there is suffering, but it also benefits more than first world people too.
posted by FJT at 11:47 PM on June 2, 2012


Arguing over manufacturing jobs is just asinine. Foxconn is bringing in 1 million robots over the next 3 years to replace their workers. Just forgot about manufacturing jobs and start worrying about work anyone will still be getting hired for by the time the next presidential race comes around

There does seem to be a huge deficit in people with modern software skills - the number of whom wind up working on building the latest bubble-company's new hopefully more profitable of serving you ads doesn't help
posted by crayz at 3:37 AM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


No idea who coined this:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by coding spam filters . . .

(I think I first heard it from Neal Stephenson)
posted by bukvich at 6:18 AM on June 3, 2012


You know, it wouldn't even be that hard to make Canada and the US more competitive. Canada had a great light manufacturing sector for a long, long time. Then we got NAFTA. All of a sudden a whole ton of those jobs went either to the US (larger economy of scale) or Mexico (Minimal labour laws).

Which makes it seem like an easy solution: Just charge import taxes based on the labour conditions it was made under. Equal or better, as in, importing from Canada or UK to the US? No taxes, come on it. Far worse? Sorry, you have to pay the difference in cost to the government.
Ramp it up slowly, and the expertise will return. You'll have to hire up a bunch of people with that expertise from other countries to build the factories at first and whatnot, but it can be done.

Not that it will ever happen, but hey, I can dream.
I'm also going to dream about not getting shoved against a wall and shot by angry mobs in a few years, considering I'm a member of the upper middle class and all. (Which in Canada still means you are living a comfortable life)
posted by Canageek at 7:44 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've got nothing against 24 hour factories--but pay for three shifts of workers if you want a 24-hour factory; or follow those industries Forktine mentions and allow workers a two week on/two week off schedule. Don't force your workers to live at the factory so you can rouse them at management's whim to create a wholly unnecessary consumer good to increase its status with an upgrade. We're no longer cranking out munitions to save the world against evil dictators. We're making fucking cell phone upgrades.

You know, I completely do not understand people's hatred of worker dormitories /or/ 12-hour shifts. I was in the US military. I lived, essentially, in a "worker dormitory" called "barracks." I enjoyed it much, much more than when I eventually got an apartment. You live and work with the same people, you wind up having your friends very close to you. You have an incredibly short commute to work, which means the time you have for yourself is much greater. Living in a "dormitory" doesn't mean "living in hell." You can still decorate your room, have friends over, do all the things that you would want to do with an apartment, it's just that all of your co-workers happen to live in the same apartment as you.

As for twelve-hour shifts, I actually did work those. Actually, I worked more like 14 hour shifts. As long as there's enough time off given to switch from nights to days, it's actually not bad. I really enjoyed my time working shift.

I think we think of those things as awful, terrible, evil things, but they're really not necessarily for the people actually working them. And I think we do need to look at the possibility that our standards for labor are in fact hurting our ability to compete on a grand scale. Now that might be something we're okay with - it might be something that we think is fine in exchange for workers not "having" to work these shifts - but I think we might need to look at the idea that it's not as simple as "US is happy paradise, everywhere else is eeevil, anyone going overseas is eeevil."
posted by corb at 10:08 AM on June 3, 2012


As for twelve-hour shifts, I actually did work those. Actually, I worked more like 14 hour shifts. As long as there's enough time off given to switch from nights to days, it's actually not bad.

Yes, but it's not twelve hour shifts people are objecting to, it's twelve hour shifts that include risk of being roused in the middle of the night after already completing a shift of the same length because somebody client side redesigned the product. Their are industries where people work immense numbers of hours. Salaried professionals in some fields, like coding, tolerate staggering work loads.

The military at least has the justification that it's in defence of the country, however the dislike of some of its members for barracks living is so wide spread that the phenomena of marrying early to get into couples housing is a known phenomena.

Company housing isn't the devil here, either. On the contrariwise, it's an accepted utility in some industries such that labour laws in the US (and my own Canada) are structured to allow for it, specifically making sure to prevent the previously problematic issue that people were being charged extravagant sums for living by their employer. The problem is relative worker desperation, that countries like China and India have massive hordes of migrant workers, slum dwellers and crushingly impoverished rural dwellers to whom these jobs are a good deal. In order to be competitive, we're not just talking about lowering standards for working in a factory, we're talking about quality of life being so piss poor regular access to toilets is awesome. We cannot compete with that without actively destroying things. Even Detroit, urban horror story so often debated on the blue, still hasn't devolved that far yet.

And seriously, people talk about lowering our standards, scrapping minimum wage to let the worker market decide (and it bloody well did last time, worker unions playing quite a big part in securing it in the first place), putting people into dorms (never the people suggesting it mind you, just hypothetical lucky, eager workers who'll be ecstatic in capitalism's version of a planned community), rolling away benefits and expectations (healthcare? lunch breaks? not being poisoned by your job? ha!) never realizing that the countries pulling this sort of shit off need the prop of a hungry mob. Who in their right mind would want to voluntarily subject humans to being part of a misery collective like that?

I mean, do you think environmental regulations are cosmetic? Smog and water pollution kills people. If we really are all doomed to economic collapse, maybe our priorities will slide such that say, massive increases of asthma related mortality from contaminated air are a drop in the bucket, but for the moment trying to sink down to a level we just spent centuries of scrambling to get away from voluntarily is about as sane as trying to deal with a sinking ship by throwing people overboard and cutting pieces off the boat to give a temporary boost in buoyancy.

Remember all those conversations on the Blue about the people who pick our food, again usually vastly exploited Mexican migrants? And how it comes up, time and time again, that the locals just don't see the practicality of making pennies to be exposed to agricultural pesticides and sleep in trailers, that the workers we get are escaping something worse? You want something worse to be what happens here?

In order to compete their way, and lets be frank, half measures will never be enough, you'd better start looking into slashing access to education. You'd better reverse a couple of centuries of urbanization, medical assistance, social security, employment insurance, food stamps, and so on. And to make my point succinctly, imagine the money they'd save if American soldiers earned only what their Chinese counterparts did? It would be much more competitive, and remember, if everyday workers could expect living conditions like you're advocating, a slashed salary would still be a damn good deal. I lay reasonable odd, as a soldier, Chinese standard military life would not have been an improvement on what you enjoyed, and these blanket exhalations of copying need to be applied fairly, so it isn't reasonable to expect certain industries to lower their standards and not yours.
posted by Phalene at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which makes it seem like an easy solution: Just charge import taxes based on the labour conditions it was made under. Equal or better, as in, importing from Canada or UK to the US? No taxes, come on it. Far worse? Sorry, you have to pay the difference in cost to the government.
Ramp it up slowly, and the expertise will return. You'll have to hire up a bunch of people with that expertise from other countries to build the factories at first and whatnot, but it can be done.


So you're suggesting we install protectionist policies to curb the amount of cheap manufacturing labour (which is some of the best labour in the country, usually) and import the expertise from other countries to save the U.S.' manufacturing sector?

If your concern is labour standards, consider the effect it will have on poor, rural Chinese not to have manufacturing jobs at all anymore. What jobs will they take? Some would argue that they'll take worse ones, for worse pay, and under worse conditions...because those were the jobs that existed before they started manufacturing things. Backbreaking labour for no money and with no standards at all.

If your concern is saving the technology industry in the U.S, consider how little incentive there will be to generate a competitive advantage against other countries if the government coddles the industry. Suddenly, it becomes less important to invest in new equipment and processes, because the government is guaranteeing that no matter how inefficient your process is, the government will just inflate the price of competitive goods to ensure you still make money.

Protectionism is not the answer to this issue; right now, there is an evening out of the economic powers going on and the U.S. needs to move towards value-added manufacturing and being better and more innovative than other countries are...which means investing in their people and their infrastructure instead of gutting spending everywhere they can.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 11:08 AM on June 3, 2012


I don't think the US is a paradise and the rest of the world is evil. I think the US is pretty evil--actually--particularly with how it addresses poverty, deprivation, social needs and with how it promotes greed, ignores long term effects and idolizes a definition of success which I find incompatible with the greater good.

I don't, however, think comparing factory barracks to military barracks validates a factory model that has workers deprived of liberty during their off hours. Primarily because soldiers are serving a larger social purpose and factory workers--particularly those in the Apple factory example in the linked article--are being paid less than subsistence wages so that upper management can make ever more money for a small number of people at the very top. That to me is categorically evil and very very American.

Company towns are not per se evil. 12 hour shifts are not per se evil. 24 hour factories are not per se evil. 24 hour factories with a single-shift's work of people are exploitative. As Phalene says "Yes, but it's not twelve hour shifts people are objecting to, it's twelve hour shifts that include risk of being roused in the middle of the night after already completing a shift of the same length" (my emphasis).

I further object because we are not talking about critical goods here--we're talking about the newest and bestest gadget. And I further object because we still consider companies that treat their lowest level employees with dignity and value as feel-good novelty stories. We don't laud them as "real" successes because we reserve that honor for businessmen who find the way to make the most money for themselves regardless of whether their employees can afford basic healthcare or to save for retirement.

I admit that my view tends to be a bit extreme, but personally, I think that if you--as the head of Hugely Monetarily Successful Company don't--after a point--stop putting those profits into your own pocket and don't--instead--start putting them into your employees' pockets and communities, you have failed. I believe that the world will never be a better place until people who have an excess recognize the responsibility to give some of their surplus (whether that surplus is money, time, expertise or just kindness) to other people, rather than clutch it ever more tightly in their fists.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:26 AM on June 3, 2012


The nation vs. nation frame of reference is the wrong frame of reference for this discussion. The organizations making these decisions are not called "multi-national or trans-national corporations" because they have offices in New York, London, and Shanghai.

The Davos women and men who own and operate those orgs don't care if their engineers and middle managers are Russian, Chinese, Indian, or American. They don't care if their factories are in Asia or the US Midwest. They don't care if their earnings are denominated in dollars, renminbi or euros. They only care that their margins are healthy and secure.

The solution* will not be found in national economic policy adjustments -- they must be international adjustments. And they'll probably have to come from the bottom up.

----------------------
*Aren't we really discussing the same old problem -- economic insecurity/inequality?
posted by notyou at 11:28 AM on June 3, 2012


Rodrigo Lamaitre: "If your concern is labour standards, consider the effect it will have on poor, rural Chinese not to have manufacturing jobs at all anymore."

Why would they not have manufacturing jobs at all? I suspect lots of manufacturers would choose to continue manufacturing in China and just eat the extra cost while they improved working conditions and environmental controls. The whole point is to equalize the disparity, not put ourselves up over other people.

Tariffs are not necessarily protectionism. They can be used for the purpose of tilting the playing field in our direction. That's not a great use of the tool. They can also be used to ensure a level playing field for our companies by not allowing those who take advantage of lax standards elsewhere in the world to avoid their responsibilities.
posted by wierdo at 11:56 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]



I don't, however, think comparing factory barracks to military barracks validates a factory model that has workers deprived of liberty during their off hours. Primarily because soldiers are serving a larger social purpose and factory workers--particularly those in the Apple factory example in the linked article--are being paid less than subsistence wages so that upper management can make ever more money for a small number of people at the very top. That to me is categorically evil and very very American.

Company towns are not per se evil. 12 hour shifts are not per se evil. 24 hour factories are not per se evil. 24 hour factories with a single-shift's work of people are exploitative. As Phalene says "Yes, but it's not twelve hour shifts people are objecting to, it's twelve hour shifts that include risk of being roused in the middle of the night after already completing a shift of the same length" (my emphasis).


Well, the military definitely does this too. I guarantee that it's happened to me. Particularly in terms of being paid less than subsistence wages. Many soldiers, particularly at lower grades, were eligible for food stamps. All of them, including myself, were being paid less than minimum wage for a significant amount of time. The only difference is that the "company" provided a "chow hall" - which many "company living facilities" /also/ do. The food isn't great, but it's free.

I acknowledge those who say that the military has an ostensibly noble, socially valid purpose and goal - defense of the nation, so that makes these things justifiable. But I think other people see things from a different perspective - such as that economic development of the nation is /also/ defense of the nation. They don't see it as inherently selfish, but also noble. I recognize this is different than your thought pattern, but can you understand why they might see it that way?
posted by corb at 1:05 PM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole point is to equalize the disparity, not put ourselves up over other people.

I get the impression that for some people, the whole point is actually to get these jobs back to the USA however possible.
posted by jacalata at 1:16 PM on June 3, 2012


I don't really understand the objection to Chinese or Indians or Albanians or Ghanaians coming here and taking "our" jobs. (Offshoring is a different story.) It was dumb luck that I was born here and I don't have the aptitude to be an engineer. If someone else wants to do that, make a lot of money, pay taxes for the infrastructure I use everyday and stick around, be my guest.

This.

Don't you get it? Those are Americans! They came here wanting a better life, they worked hard, contributed to society, bought homes... Is this starting to sound at all familiar? This is yours and everybody's family history, if you go back far enough.
posted by newdaddy at 1:40 PM on June 3, 2012


jacalata: "I get the impression that for some people, the whole point is actually to get these jobs back to the USA however possible."

Some people would like it if I were to die in a fire. That doesn't mean I'm not going to enjoy a nice campfire.
posted by wierdo at 1:46 PM on June 3, 2012


The whole point is to equalize the disparity, not put ourselves up over other people.

If you read the comment I was referring to, they suggested using tariffs on labour standards as a way of moving expertise and factories back to the U.S. That's not really about disparity so much as it is about tilting the playing field.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 1:51 PM on June 3, 2012


Rodrigo Lamaitre: "If you read the comment I was referring to, they suggested using tariffs on labour standards as a way of moving expertise and factories back to the U.S. That's not really about disparity so much as it is about tilting the playing field."

Leveling an already tilted playing field is not "tilting the playing field," however it is indeed possible to go too far and tilt it the other way. That is not what I understood Canageek's comment to be advocating.
posted by wierdo at 2:10 PM on June 3, 2012


Rodrigo Lamaitre: So tilt the tariffs to balance that; China still has all those factories and supply chains. There is going to be a point where raising living conditions in China is competitive with building it in the US. Also, those tariffs will give the US some needed operating capital, which will hopefully keep it from collapsing and destroying my country when it falls.

Free trade is a new idea as well; I fail to see why it is better then any other economic model.

Of course, I'm not a capitalist, so yeah. Money should be a means to an end, not an end in itself, and if we ever think up a workable economic system that doesn't need it I'd be highly interested in it.
posted by Canageek at 7:27 PM on June 3, 2012


There is going to be a point where raising living conditions in China is competitive with building it in the US.

That's when the factories start moving to Vietnam. Labor arbitrage and all that...
posted by MikeMc at 2:42 PM on June 4, 2012


This whole article is total bullshit. If you can't find US Citizens to do the work for the money you are paying, that doesn't mean there are none, it just means they're way too expensive.
posted by delmoi at 5:55 PM on June 4, 2012


The combination of rising wages in China, elevated shipping costs and a rethinking of supply chains is making North America the hot “new” global manufacturing hub. Boston Consulting Group predicts the combination of production returning from China and increased exports will create between 600,000 and one million jobs in the United States over the next decade.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:32 PM on June 4, 2012


MikeMc: That is why you tie the tax to labour conditions as the specific factory, not in any one country. If you want to get the lower tax rates you'd have to be willing to prove that the conditions in your factory met the standards of that level.
posted by Canageek at 5:24 PM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


create between 600,000 and one million jobs in the United States over the next decade.

Last month 69,000 jobs were created, and the unemployment rate went up. That's an annualized rate of 830k. So, 600-1m in ten might be about 1/10th of the growth rate we need. Well, to maintain the current shitty unemployment rate.
posted by delmoi at 8:26 PM on June 5, 2012


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