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Apple manufacturing jobs are not coming back and that's OK

Tom Kaneshige | Oct. 19, 2012
Everything about Apple is as American as apple pie, even its decision to send manufacturing and unskilled-labor jobs to China.

It's true that Apple and virtually every other tech gadget maker sends manufacturing to China, where Chinese laborers are paid very little to put iPhones and iPads together. Saturday Night Live did a funny skit recently on this.

It seems Governor Romney's call to pressure China would be part of a larger plan to take away the financial incentive for U.S. companies to outsource manufacturing overseas, thus hopefully bringing back manufacturing jobs. President Obama, on the other hand, doesn't even want those jobs back.

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What's missing is the other side of the Apple equation: The iPhone and iPad, along with the iOS app and hardware peripheral ecosystems, have spawned many high-paying jobs for skilled workers.

In a landmark study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Apple keeps most of its high-wage functions, such as product design, software development and product management in the U.S. All tallied, Chinese workers add $10 or less to the value of an iPad compared to American workers who add $160 worth of value.

"In America, when we talk about manufacturing, we should be talking about advanced manufacturing jobs for highly skilled workers that require a solid education and pay wages on which you can support a family," writes Arik Hesseldahl at AllThingsD. "And the fact is, there's a lot of American work that goes into an iPad or an iPhone or a Mac."

Too much has been made about Chinese workers who work on only the final stage of a complex product. Apple is an American icon because it creates jobs for highly-skilled Americans and showcases American ingenuity to the world, as well as makes a boatload of money.

Whether or not there are enough high-skilled jobs to go around or highly skilled Americans to do them is another issue, but one thing is certain: Apple has laid down the blueprint for the next-generation economy in America, and low-skill assembly jobs are not part of the equation.



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