U.S. job losses in recent years — especially high-paying technology jobs — are a startling reality that even the Obama administration is having to acknowledge, however reluctantly. As the Florida presidential primary looms just five days away, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are both ratcheting up their job-creation rhetoric.
The U.S. has lost nearly 30 percent of its technology jobs in recent years, according to a new report from the National Science Board, an advisory panel for the National Science Foundation. Asia is becoming the world’s technology job leader, the report indicates.
The National Science Board reported this month that the U.S. lost 687,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs since 2000, and that 85 percent of new research and development-related job growth for U.S. technology companies occurred overseas.
Although the report portrays that decline as one spread out over the past 10 years, other data indicate a steep slide in recent months. The hiring website SimplyHired.com indicates that tech hiring in the United States plunged by 15.3 percent during the last year alone.
“The number of technology jobs in the U.S. has been down for some time, in particular jobs related to the production of hardware,” Simply Hired CEO Gautam Godhwani told The Daily Caller.
Gingrich told Miami media Wednesday that Obama’s policies constitute the “most anti-job” agenda ever pursued by a U.S. president. Romney called on Obama to stop shifting blame and do something dramatic to foster job creation.
“Aren’t you the leader of the free world,” Romney rhetorically asked an absent Obama Wednesday morning. “Why don’t you draft some legislation?”
U.S. employment in high-technology manufacturing peaked 12 years ago with 2.5 million jobs, the National Science Board report found, during the waning days of the Clinton administration.
Some other recent surveys, like one this week from the recruiting firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas, indicate that tech hiring has picked up in recent weeks.
Examples of tech contraction are seemingly everywhere.
Wells Fargo in November announced that it was cutting 25 staff and leaving 30 positions unfilled in IT, in order to save $188 million. State Street Financial slashed 850 IT jobs last summer, primarily in Boston. The computing giant Cisco Systems, the cell-phone company Nokia and Blackberry maker RIM collectively announced last year that they had cut 10,000 jobs.
Even Obama, who last year blamed ATMs and factory automation for the loss of many American jobs, agrees there is a problem. A source close to a major job search website told TheDC that the Chinese have been surging ahead of the U.S. in creating and nurturing startups and encouraging innovation for years, even with the Obama administration investing in technology.
Competitive Enterprise Institute economic analyst Hans Bader called the president the “outsourcer-in-chief” in an e-mail to TheDC. He said jobs that can be performed here in the U.S. have increasingly moved overseas during the Obama administration’s first three years.
But what could the leading GOP candidates — Gingrich and Romney — do to reverse this seeming trend from the Oval Office?
During a Jan. 7 debate in New Hampshire, Gingrich said the U.S. needs to focus on developing technological infrastructure. “You cannot compete with China in the long run if you have an inferior infrastructure. You’ve got to move to a 21st-century model. That means you’ve got to be technologically smart and you have to make investments,” he said.
Romney has also written and spoken about improving America’s technology infrastructure, but focuses mostly on lowering tax rates and reforming the tax code so more businesses can thrive.
During an Iowa debate on Dec. 10, the former governor said he disagrees with Gingrich’s view of the government’s role in tech job creation.
“Speaker Gingrich and I have a lot of places where we disagree,” said Romney. “We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon, I’m not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that.”
Gingrich retorted, “I’m proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study science and math and technology, and telling them that someday in their lifetime they could dream of going to the moon — they could dream of going to Mars.”
Jeff Manber, a Reagan administration appointee who worked on science and technology policy, told TheDC that “Newt gets it” on technology policy. Government investments in computing by the Defense Department led to the creation of the consumer Internet, he explained, and government spending on NASA during the 1960s powered growth in computer chips and satellites.
Even within the GOP, there are splits in the business community regarding different approaches to job creation.
Some, like Viewfinity CEO Leonid Shtilman, a former professor at Tel Aviv University and the City University of New York, want a focus on entrepreneurial work instead of trade wars overseas.
“It is not realistic to compete with China, India and Korea in heavy industry since the wages are really different,” he told TheDC in an email.
“The attempts of some presidential candidate to point to unfair trade are not serious, since even if you devaluate Chinese currency by 100 percent, the wages in China will be much lower than in USA,” he said. “The only way to compete is to create a new agenda for development in potentially growing areas, like new energy, nanotechnology and material research. … [W]e need to create an atmosphere of respect for the sciences.”
Stina Ehrensvard, CEO of the Palo Alto, Calif., tech firm Yubico Inc., is one tech player who wants the president to unleash more government investment. He told TheDC that he “advises” the White House to speed up government spending and regulation to “drive innovation and mass implementation” of online security for Internet companies.
Ehrensvard reckons that firms like PayPal, Facebook and Google are today’s versions of what Apple and Microsoft were the 1980s: job-creating engines of American economic growth.
But too few American students are equipped to take many of those jobs today.
Todd Brabender, a spokesman for Neumont University, a technology college in Utah, told TheDC about a recent marked “decline in qualified and engaged U.S. students exploring tech degrees and careers.” His school is beginning to recruit in China for interested students, he said.
As the philosophical battles heat up during this election year, the arguments over America’s tech-jobs future have intensified — including among those who believe a less tech-obsessed employment culture is a good thing for business.
“America has not declined in technology, but has achieved a bittersweet victory of sorts in multiple dimensions via its outsourcing arrangements to both China and India,” said Phil Lieberman, the CEO of Lieberman Software in Los Angeles.
“In return for peace and the promotion/insertion of capitalism and a mutated form of democracy into these regimes, America has achieved peace and cooperation from former serious combatants,” he told TheDC. “America has also been the recipient of below domestic market value products and services.”
During that December Iowa debate, Gingrich cast his lot with those who see Lieberman as short-sighted.
“I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important, and where frankly it is tragic that NASA has been so bureaucratized,” Gingrich added. “Iowa’s doing brilliant things, attracting brilliant students. I want to give them places to go and things to do. And I’m happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way.”
Along these lines, the London-based New Scientist journal recently called Gingrich “Newt Skywalker” after he won the South Carolina GOP primary, no doubt alluding to the former speaker’s passion for big science projects.
In the current tech-jobs climate, however, President Obama may soon be cast in the role of Darth Vader when voters go to the polls in November. Or perhaps Emperor Palpatine.
This story was updated after publication to include a quote from the CEO of Simply Hired.