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Are Apple products really fueling the U.S. job market? Eh, maybe

The iPhone maker revealed today that it has "created or supported" 514,000 jobs across the United States.

Apple shows how its jobs impact breaks down.
Apple shows how its jobs its created or supported. Apple/Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Is the Apple the U.S. job market's savior?

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company today released the findings of a study conducted by the Analysis Group that found that it has either "created or supported" 514,000 jobs across the U.S. That figure includes 304,000 current jobs across a wide array of industries, including engineering, manufacturing, and transportation. The balance comes through the so-called "iOS app economy."

"Throughout our history, Apple has created entirely new products--and entirely new industries--by focusing on innovation," Apple said today on the new "Job Creation" page on its Web site. "As a result, we've created or supported more than 500,000 jobs for U.S. workers: from the engineer who helped invent the iPad to the delivery person who brings it to your door."

In studies such as these, figures need to be taken with a grain of salt. Apple currently only employs 47,000 people in the U.S. And although its claims that the iPhone and iPad, among other products, have increased manufacturing jobs across the country make sense, some other data might be generous. For example, Apple is staking claim to the workers at FedEx and UPS that deliver its products to customers, without acknowledging that even before the iPhone and iPad were around, they had jobs delivering other packages.

The math might also be a little generous. In order to arrive at the employment figures, Analysis Group took the entire amount Apple paid out for goods and services this year and applied that to the Type 1 employment multipliers used by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. If you're not familiar with the multipliers, Type 1 accounts for the "direct and indirect impacts based on the supply of goods and services in the region." Type 2 does the same, but also accounts for "induced impacts," the BEA explains.

The multipliers are used widely across both the public and private sectors. At the Southern Regional Science Association Conference last year, Rebecca Bess and Zoe Ambargis of the Bureau of Economic Analysis released a paper on those multipliers. They acknowledged that the "accounting conventions" used to derive data from the multipliers "impose assumptions" and can "lead to an overstatement of the impacts of a project or program." That, they say, may make "many consider the estimates as upper bounds."

And what about that iOS app economy? Well, Apple pointed to a study released last month by TechNet, which found that 466,000 jobs related to mobile applications have been added to the U.S. economy. After applying "keyword search methodology," Analysis Group found that 45 percent of all app-related job postings mention only iOS and the iPhone. It then applied that percentage to the total number of jobs in the TechNet study to arrive at the 210,000 positions.

But there's another side to this. The iPhone's 2007 launch turned the mobile market upside-down and threw many mobile device makers into a tailspin. RIM's BlackBerry, which once stood atop the market, is now hoping to stay relevant. Microsoft took years to deliver Windows Phone 7 and start trying again to grab market share. To seemingly ignore that the iPhone negatively impacted many companies--and thus, jobs--across the U.S. might call some of the figures into question.

Still, Apple argues that it's being conservative with its estimates. In footnotes to the study, the company says that it didn't include "an estimated 187,000 additional jobs that have resulted from the increased spending of individuals and households whose income is directly or indirectly tied to Apple's economic activity." It made no mention of how consumer spending on Apple's products negatively affected competing products.

There's no debating that huge companies that are as successful as Apple help the job market. But the iPhone maker might have overstated a bit on this one.

Analysis Group did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on whether Apple commissioned the researcher to conduct this study or if it acted alone.

Update 1:41 p.m. PT to include more background.