Nobody loves Apple products more than I do. I've got an iMac, MacBook, iPad, iPhone and four iPod shuffles. But as a progressive who is concerned about the job security of Americans I hate the fact that Apple chose to offshore the assembly of its products to China and plan to boycott them until they "reshore" their products to the United States.
According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, most of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold in 2011 were made overseas. That year it earned more than $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google. Frankly that's obscene. Apple used to make its stuff here but by 2004 it turned to foreign manufacturing. Guess whose idea that was -- Timothy Cook, the guy who replaced Steve Jobs as CEO.
Apparently Google thinks American workers do have the chops to assemble its products in the United States since on the underside of its Nexus Q tablet is a simple description: "Designed and Manufactured in the U.S.A." Unfortunately, when a New York Times reporter asked Andy Rubin, the Google executive who leads the company's Android mobile business, where the factory is located in Silicon Valley, for some reason he wouldn't disclose it publicly and the company reportedly isn't saying much about the source of many of its parts in the U.S. (Spokespeople for Apple and Google didn't respond to my requests for comment.)
Some experts are optimistic about the return of factory jobs because of rising Chinese wages -- University of Southern California economist Baizhu Chen says they've risen a whopping 14 percent a year during the past decade -- along with a declining dollar and skyrocketing oil prices that have driven up shipping costs by about 71 percent. Manufacturing wages in China's big hubs are $3.40 to $3.50 per hour, compared to about $1 an hour just a few years ago.
But are the wages being paid for the U.S. factory jobs truly middle class? When GE moved its assembly of water heaters from Chinese contractors to its factory in Louisville, wages at the new plant were $13 an hour and assembly workers at Whirlpool's Ohio plant typically earn $12.40 to $16.50 per hour -- a huge pay cut from the $32 an hour that used to be typical for U.S. workers, which is STILL way lower than the typical $48 an hour wage in Germany.
Not only is the U.S. minimum wage worth less now -- adjusted for inflation -- than it was 44 years ago in 1968, but the median wage actually declined in three calendar years since 2001, the first time since 1967 that has happened. Bill Clinton's move in 2000 to permit China's entry into the World Trade Organization is a huge driver of these wage drops.
In the not-so-old days U.S. companies valued their workers over their shareholders and compensated them well -- the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay in the S&P 500 was 42 to one in 1980 compared to 380 to one in 2011, according to "The CEO File," in the June 2012 issue of Reuters Magazine. This is the highest ratio in the world; the CEO/worker ratio in France is 23 to one, 20 to one in Germany and 26 to one in Italy.
As United Steelworkers president and fellow blogger Leo W. Gerard told me, this country "needs to make things that create real wealth. We need workforce training and development. In 10 years we've gone from a trade deficit that's under $20 billion that's now $2 trillion." Huffpost has launched a great new jobs section: Opportunity: What is Working, that will tackle the challenges of accelerating job creation and filling current job openings.
The other thing that white collar liberals should wake up to is those of us with lousy benefits such as a lack of a pension -- which is most of us -- are better off when unionized blue collar workers negotiate adequate pensions that trickle up to the "salaried" employees.
As former SEIU President Andy Stern pointed out in his book, A Country That Works, too many white-collar Democrats who run companies that pay low wages are fighting unions that want to negotiate decent wages. He described a fundraiser for President Clinton that was hosted by a "powerful and wealthy Boston couple who owned a nursing home that SEIU had spent years trying to organize. The owner had been quoted in Boston Magazine as saying, `Unions have no place, in my opinion, in the heath care industry.' Quite a point of view for the host of an important Democratic Party event."
Bottom line: True Blue Democrats have got to switch their loyalties to the working class from the One Percent.