Apple’s overall contribution to the American economy is significant. Beyond the 80,000 people it directly employs in the United States, it says 69 supplier facilities in 33 states manufacture parts that go into its products. Hundreds of thousands of software developers also write apps for iPhones and iPads.So, lots of answering the phone and writing code and planning distribution, plus a few hundred great jobs for chip designers and senior programmers. When Apple had this complex built they insisted that all their contractors pay at least $12/hour, which I suppose is a nice gesture. But if Apple had to insist that contractors pay $12/hour, that to me says something pretty dire about the labor market in what is generally said to be a booming region.
Apple’s rapid growth here in central Texas, where it now employs about 6,000 people, up from 2,100 seven years ago, provides a window into the vast constellation of jobs at the world’s largest technology company and their economic impact.
At Apple’s sparkling new complex in northwest Austin, workers who are spread throughout seven limestone-and-glass buildings field about 8,000 customer tech-support calls a day, manage the company’s vast network of suppliers and figure out how to move around millions of iPhones a week to ensure they get into the hands of customers when they want them.
Employees here help run Apple’s iTunes music and app stores, handle the billions of dollars going in and out of the company’s American operations and continuously update the Maps software that is integral to iPhones and iPads. At another Austin location, about 500 engineers work on the chips that will run the next round of Apple’s products.
Some Apple products are manufactured near Austin, by a company called Flex that assembles custom Mac Pro desktop computers.
Flex added about 2,000 jobs for the Apple project. Although Apple and Flex declined to discuss details of their arrangement, the assembly jobs start at $11 an hour and pay an average of about $30,000 a year, according to testimony by Flex officials in 2014, when they sought government aid for the expansion.So much for manufacturing being a route into the middle class; Apple pays experienced call center workers up to $45,000, or half again as much as the average worker assembling computers.
The issue is not really where phones or computers are assembled. The issue is that they emerge from a global manufacturing system in which workers in Austin are in direct competition with workers in Shanghai. One expert the Times spoke to says it would cost Apple $100 more to assemble iPhones in the US, and I assume that means with the miserable wages they are paying now; if they were to pay their factory workers $60,000/year the cost would go up by hundreds more. That would just lead people to switch from iPhones to some other brand assembled overseas. The expert also said this:
There are fewer industrial accidents working in a call center. There is probably more gender equity.No doubt this is true; but many former factory workers from Rust Belt towns would be humiliated by answering the phone for Apple and having to follow a script written by customer service executives.
Back in 2012, President Obama asked Steve Jobs, at a public banquet for tech executives, what it would take for Apple to move its manufacturing back to the US. Jobs answered, it can't be done. A "source" later explained:
It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, 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.At that time Apple had only 43,000 US employees, so it has added 37,000 since then. But more than 700,000 people around the world work on Apple products through an immense ecosystem of firms. The speed and flexibility of the system allowed Apple, in 2012, to earn $400,000 in profit per employee, a staggering number that brings home both how rigged the system is against the workers of every country, and the startling efficiency that allows tech firms to earn huge profits while still delivering ever better stuff at ever falling prices.