A Place for Cafe Refugees and Others Like Them

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 were hand 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 replace 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.

Cross Posted at TPMAHOLICS


Comments on: "Where are the Jobs ? – Reprise" (13)

  1. Oh and I didn’t even mention the media and entertainment industry where TV and Radio stations had a large staff of announcers and DJs and reporters and support staff.

  2. That is only if you look at macro economics such as the GDP but there is another measurement that is being explored by economist called GWB (Gross Well Being of a country). National well-being of members of a country is important just as capital and exports. Our well-being is on a down ward trend right now. Until that is fixed the depression is not over.

  3. Slightly off-topic, C, but I remember you mentioning the skyrocketing number of government contracts recently. Well today at work I read a list of the Top 100 Suppliers of Office Furniture to the US Government, and found that roughly half of all government purchases last year were driven by the Defense Department (source: The Monday Morning Quarterback). What also surprised me was that the #2 furniture company on the list, which received $103.4 million from the US last year, is Unicor, the brand name for the Justice Department-run Federal Prison Industries (FPI). Roughly 3,158 federal prison inmates work at eight Unicor locations to produce everything from desks and chairs to shelves and office cubicles for the State Department. Interesting, huh?

    • ~flowerchild~ said:

      Wow. Yeah, that is interesting!

    • Well then we know what you need to do to get a job with the feds then. Just knock over a bank and go to another state.

      That makes it a federal rap I believe.

    • Out of curiosity I looked this up. The inmates are paid between $0.23 and $1.15 per hour. It appears the bigger share of facilities are in red states. The board members are easily a majority red state persons. There is a trade show in October where the company has an exhibit. The name of the trade show is NeoCon East. No kidding.

      • Yes, I’ve recently heard of Neocon due to a place I’m temping at. It’s a huge annual trade show.

        Who would’ve thought that the Federal Prison system was involved in furniture??

        It almost sounds like something from a futuristic novel.

        • I just finished a college library, and the facilities manager is expected to buy furniture made by prisoners, through a state program, unless he can find a compelling reason to get something else.

  4. I think this is absolutely right. And all those parts could be replaced. Now everything is made overseas and almost impossible to repair.

    • And all too often, in our “disposable” society, people who can afford it simply buy a whole new TV or stereo or what have you, rather than bother trying to get them repaired.

    • That is true. I neglected to mention the repair aspect even though I used to do electronics repair. But that area went away quite some time ago. Now only for very expensive equipment and it’s replacing entire PC boards. No component level repair.

      • This is simple economics. Motherboards are very complex animals. Most are four or more layer boards. Desoldering and resoldering board mounted chips is all but impossible in the field or a small shop. Consumer grade motherboards manufactured or purchased by manufacturers are cheap. Most are less than $50 in bulk. The labor cost plus parts just isn’t feasible. Hasn’t been for years. Even in factories where they make the things they don’t repair defective ones coming off the line. Not to mention they have the manufacturing processes down to a science so the reject rates are tiny. Six sigma process controls yield something like 99.97 production rates. Which means only three boards out of a thousand might be defective.

        • Six Sigma. I remember that well. Sony used it when I was there, and tried to move it across the board from QC and Production to order entry to even a secretary’s job. Which was when the trouble started.

          Six Sigma seems to work for production, yes, but when it comes to office workers, everyone bitched and moaned that they didn’t have the time to study their own productive use of time.

          I even recall most of us renaming it Sick Stigma, out of frustration, and the push back was major.

          Office workers do need to analyze their methods and efficiency, yes, and always question “What is it that I do that wastes times, and how can I help streamline?”. But for the most part, Six Sigma works best in production and assembly, and not so much at each admin’s desk.

          My two cents, anyway.

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