Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Amazon’s high-tech delivery dream poses threat to jobs

12/4/2013

The United States has a history of outsourcing its jobs to other countries as companies try to get the most work for the least amount of money possible. The jobs most likely to be outsourced in the past have included both blue-collar and white-collar occupations with an emphasis on computer programmers, system designers and production labor.

It isn’t difficult to understand manufacturers’ attraction to lower wages; for example, paying someone $39 per month in Bangladesh compared to $3,900 per month in the United States can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line and profitability. Whether those outsourced jobs belonged to employees who were part of unions, full-time workers, part-time workers or some other arrangement, the jobs still went away. Initially some Americans shunned those products that were not made in America, however, some categories of products, including clothing, largely are produced overseas, leaving few affordable domestic purchasing options.

The United States has a history of outsourcing its jobs to other countries as companies try to get the most work for the least amount of money possible. The jobs most likely to be outsourced in the past have included both blue-collar and white-collar occupations with an emphasis on computer programmers, system designers and production labor.

It isn’t difficult to understand manufacturers’ attraction to lower wages; for example, paying someone $39 per month in Bangladesh compared to $3,900 per month in the United States can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line and profitability. Whether those outsourced jobs belonged to employees who were part of unions, full-time workers, part-time workers or some other arrangement, the jobs still went away. Initially some Americans shunned those products that were not made in America, however, some categories of products, including clothing, largely are produced overseas, leaving few affordable domestic purchasing options.

Another possible thief of American jobs is on the horizon, though in some circles it might be celebrated rather than shunned. The latest threat to our workforce doesn’t possess the face of a resident of a third-world country and, in fact, looks more like the future of industry. This technological bandit is a drone.

Sunday’s edition of CBS’ “60 Minutes” news program included a feature on Amazon founder and owner, Jeff Bezos, who enthusiastically announced his company’s exploration of drones as the newest possible delivery vehicle for more than 85 percent of Amazon’s deliveries, which weigh less than 5 pounds. Though standards are yet-to-be developed by the Federal Communications Commission on commercial usage of drones, they are expected by January 2015 and, no doubt, heavy usage of drones soon will follow. The drones — sturdier and more high-tech than remote-controlled toy vehicles of the most youth’s past — easily can drop off items on doorsteps, driveways or whatever GPS settings are given. While these gadgets have a great gee-whiz factor, they also could be the next pick-pocket of American jobs.

Just imagine the number of postal workers and other delivery personnel with UPS, Fed-Ex and even the courier on a bike in metropolitan areas, who could be out of a job with an influx of deliveries being made by automated means. The U.S. Postal Service already is struggling for its survival. Amazon and others should make a priority of supporting existing business partners and providing American jobs rather than outsourcing yet another service — and then wondering with surprise why our country has thousands of more people without jobs.

Outsourcing — be it by other countries or technology — has helped ruin America’s “middle class.” If we aren’t careful, more jobs and the rest of the middle class will be dropped — perhaps with a pink slip delivered by drones. Amazon should be wary: If it hastens the decline of the American workforce, fewer people will be available to afford the online shopping that has made it a retail giant.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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