Monday, September 20, 2010

Where are the Jobs ? - Reprise

We keep hearing about how we need more jobs and that congress and the president are not doing enough to help create them. And of course there are those pundits who for lack of anything else to do as well as a lack of empathy and knowledge of anything outside their narrow view of the world are saying that not only is the recession over but it ended last summer in June. Well that's news to me and a number of unemployed people I am sure.

Let us rewind a bit though and take a look at where the jobs use to be. When the industrial revolution really got underway starting in the early 20th century. With the wide spread use of electricity and the automobile and then the telephone and radio, new industries sprouted up like weeds. Not just the end products themselves but most of the parts and assemblies that went unto them as well.

Separate companies for the carburetors and wheels and tires and batteries and ignition systems and radios that went into them. Parts for the radios and broadcast transmitters. Resistors and capacitors and coils and transformers and tubes and switches and controls - RCA, GE, Sylvania, Westinghouse, Zenith, Tune Sol - and speakers, all were either separate companies or divisions of those companies that made these products. The electric mixers and motors and heaters etc. Companies like Mallory, Sprague, Cornell Doubler, Centralab, Universal, Thordarson, Messner, Omite and on and on. And all of this by hand, little or no automation. All required people to do at least some, if not all, of the assembly and testing.

And steel. Just about everything had steel it it. Not just the cars but radios and appliances and office products. Steel was used for the chassis and for shielding and of course the power transformers. All of this made here in the good old USA. Wire - miles of it - used in everything. All electronics was had wired up until sometime in the 1950s. And even when circuit boards came into use, they were mounted on steel chassis and hand wired to the rest of the set. Support services with secretaries and administrative assistants and accountants to keep track of all of this.

Yes, up until sometime in the late 60s to early 70s American products were very labor intensive. Technology and international trade slowly but surely changed all that. Factories became more automated. Computers and automated systems replaced the manual labor. Even the accountants. Solid state electronics spelled the demise of the vacuum tube. Plastic and composites began to replace steel and other metals. Companies went out of business or became automated or were bought out by foreign interests. Their products no longer needed or were being manufactured better and cheaper elsewhere. Integrated circuits took the place of tubes and were made by machine in special clean areas to prevent any contamination. Transformers were not needed nearly as much since more and more electronics we being designed to work better and weigh less without them. Competition from foreign products made for more choices for the consumer but lead to smaller and smaller consumer base for American companies.

Where went the jobs ? The same technology and progress that gave us the advances and new industries put these self same industries out of business.


trkingmomoe said...

Making clothes is still labor intensive. I for one is tired of poorly made garments from Asia and would not mind paying more for cloths that fit, don't shrink in the wash and wear out in less then 6 months. Fabric stores are now busy with new sewers not making quilts but garments. There is a market here for quality made USA garments.

cmaukonen said...

I have no doubt momoe. Funny thing is that the products that ow are the most desired and collected are those that were made by hand in the past. Not just as collectibles but because they were much better made.

Amike said...

I'd only add to cmaukonen's comment that aside from electronics, contemporary hand-made items can bring a quite heady price. People can make livings as furniture makers, picture framers, picture frame makers, printmakers, photographers, jewelry crafters, potters, cabinet makers, etc., etc. They don't all make huge livings, and some that I know supplement what they make by working the odd job--for example, person who repairs and trades antique jewelry also works as a church sexton. The ones I know share a couple of things in common. They love what they do and they are very well networked with others who can help them out when they need it...whether that need takes the form of an extra set of legs and arms to help tote stuff to a reference for a market to a loan in tough times.

A number of them are dropouts from the "rat race"--for a good portion of their lives they did what "everyone" told them was "respectable"...they wore ties and white shirts and said yassah yassah to the person who had reached his/her level of incompetence.

cmaukonen said...

Which sounds like the ways things used to be in general Amike.

Amike said...

Yes indeed cm. What I find interesting is the number of times I have to try to rescue kids from their parents' ambitions. Just last week a student at a colloquium confessed that he'd rather be a mechanic but being an engineer was as close as he could come given the family pressures.

cmaukonen said...

Well good mechanics can make as much as an engineer these days. You find this out every time you get your car worked on.

But a good plumber can make even more.