How Do You Solve a Problem Like Jobs?

The question posed in the title of this blog has a double meaning–jobs as in employment and Jobs as in Steve Jobs of Apple.

Chronically high unemployment in the U.S. is having a debilitating effect on our economy. We can point to many causes for this, but one that receives lots of press is the outsourcing of jobs overseas–and that’s where Steve Jobs comes in.

Without getting into a political debate about the pros and cons of free trade, it turns out that in a little recognized fact, Apple is one of the biggest beneficiaries of outsourcing jobs overseas. We can’t get enough iPods, iPhones, iPads, and Macs, but relatively few of the jobs created by our insatiable demand are sprouting within our borders.

According to Apple and BusinessWeek, as of September 26, 2009, Apple had about 37,000 full-time equivalent employees of which about 25,000 were based in the U.S. By contrast, Apple has subcontracted with a Chinese company called Foxconn that employs roughly 250,000 people who are devoted to building Apple products. Doing the math, for every one Apple employee working in the U.S., there are 10 Foxconn employees building Apple products in China. Knowing that costs are much lower in China (and that Apple products are in high demand), is it any surprise that Apple earned $3 billion in profit with a 42% gross margin in the first three months of this year?

Again, this is not meant to start a political debate about free trade or protectionism as there are many facets to this issue. It simply points out the intractable nature of high unemployment in the U.S., particularly in the manufacturing sector. Some people argue that free trade and capitalism are the best ways to grow jobs and profits. Others argue for protectionist measures to rebuild our domestic manufacturing base.

Ultimately, America needs to get its people back to work. The Apple example shows just how difficult that may be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *