October 17, 2012, 1:46 PM — Tech issues, including high-skilled jobs creation, outsourcing, manufacturing and research investment, emerged in Tuesday's presidential debate, offering contrasts between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.
The candidates steered clear of tech's most radioactive issue, temporary work visas like the H-1B, and didn't mention IT offshore outsourcing specifically, though they came close.
Apple was lionized by Obama as model of success, while Romney pointed out how Apple was victimized in China.
The topic of outsourcing produced much fire between Obama and Romney, but a little too much smoke for Candy Crowley, the veteran CNN reporter who moderated the debate.
Crowley jumped in and asked the candidates about how low-wages paid to workers in some countries is seen as a driver to moving work offshore.
The exchange began with a question from audience member Carol Goldberg, who asked: "The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?"
Romney replied first.
"China is now the largest manufacturer in the world," he said. "It used to be the United States of America. A lot of good people have lost jobs. A half a million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last four years. That's total over the last four years."
By mentioning China specifically, Romney was referring to a country with a broad range of manufacturing jobs.
The most prominent Chinese manufacturing jobs are in the tech industry, which includes giant companies like Foxconn. Foxconn employs more than one million workers and produces key Apple products.
In a report released this year, the National Science Foundation said U.S. high-tech manufacturing jobs reached a peak in 2000, just before the dot-com crash.
Tech manufacturing job losses were exacerbated by the recession that began in 2007 and led to the collapse to the financial sector in the fall of 2008.
In total, the NSF said high-tech manufacturing jobs have declined by 687,000, or 28%, since 2000. The NSF definition of high-tech manufacturing includes the computing machinery along with aircraft, spacecraft and pharmaceutical industries.
TechAmerica, an industry group, tracks high-tech manufacturing specifically and its research finds employment numbers that are equally stark.