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TheStreet Open House

AP IMPACT: Recession, Tech Kill Middle-class Jobs

One example is Sunbird Engineering, a Hong Kong firm that makes mirror frames for heavy trucks at a factory in southern China. Salaries at its plant in Dongguan have nearly tripled from $80 a month in 2005 to $225 today. "Automation is the obvious next step," CEO Bill Pike says.

Sunbird is installing robotic arms that drill screws into a mirror assembly, work now done by hand. The machinery will allow the company to eliminate two positions on a 13-person assembly line. Pike hopes that additional automation will allow the company to reduce another five or six jobs from the line.

"By automating, we can outlive the labor cost increases inevitable in China," Pike says. "Those who automate in China will win the battle of increased costs."

Foxconn Technology Group, which assembles iPhones at factories in China, unveiled plans in 2011 to install one million robots over three years.

A recent headline in the China Daily newspaper: "Chinese robot wars set to erupt."

___

Candidates for U.S. president last year never tired of telling Americans how jobs were being shipped overseas. China, with its vast army of cheaper labor and low-value currency, was easy to blame.

But most jobs cut in the U.S. and Europe weren't moved. No one got them. They vanished. And the villain in this story â¿¿ a clever software engineer working in Silicon Valley or the high-tech hub around Heidelberg, Germany â¿¿ isn't so easy to hate.

"It doesn't have political appeal to say the reason we have a problem is we're so successful in technology," says Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University. "There's no enemy there."

Unless you count family and friends and the person staring at you in the mirror. The uncomfortable truth is technology is killing jobs with the help of ordinary consumers by enabling them to quickly do tasks that workers used to do full time, for salaries.

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