Monday, February 28, 2011

Whatever Happened to...Made in America?

ABC News is running a week-long series right now that I think everyone should watch: Made in America. Tonight they visited the home of a middle class American family and removed every possession in it that was not made in the U.S.A. Tomorrow night they'll attempt to fill it back up with only furniture and other items that are made in this country. 

It will be a daunting experiment. According to ABC, during the 1960s about 9 out of 10 household items that the average American purchased was made here. Today, it's down to about 5 out of 10 items, although I wouldn't be surprised if most of us couldn't accomplish that 50% mark on any given retail store trip if we tried. My mother recently found a frying pan made by a company called Tramontina, and was delighted to see "Made in USA" engraved on the underside. She was so overjoyed she plans on writing a letter of gratitude to the company, which has been in business for 100 years now. 

It makes me absolutely ill to think that it's nearly impossible to find American-made goods anymore. Yes, I know that big items just as Boeing jets and Mack trucks are still made here, but we should be able to buy ordinary household goods that were crafted by American hands. Just going through my inventory of clothes tonight, I can find only one article of clothing - a beloved graphic top that's about 10 years old - that says made in America with American fabric. When I tried to buy my first guitar last year, I couldn't find a basic model that wasn't made overseas, unless I was willing to shell out thousands of dollars on a high end Gibson. I was flabberghasted to learn tonight that American Girls dolls are made in - you guessed it - China. Even my bras are made there. 

This issue is near and dear to my heart, because I'm from one of the last generations that remembers growing up with American-made goods. We used to be such a proud and prosperous country: my father always purchased an American made car, and every appliance in the house was made here. This country was built by the hands belonging to millions of hard working, blue collar Americans who were employed in the manufacturing industry. 

Back in the 80s I remember seeing a television advertising campaign that supported American manufacturing. This "Made in the U.S.A" series of spots featured several celebrities repeating the commercial's tagline, "It matters to me." Unfortunately, this attempt from 25 years ago to preserve American made products is now just a memory. So what the hell happened? According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing, since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, approximately 2.4 million American jobs have been lost or displaced thanks to the trade deficit with the Chinese. We also owe them an obscene amount of money. It was recently reported that China's holdings of U.S. bonds totaled $1.16 TRILLION dollars at the end of December 2010. How will we ever dig ourselves out of that mess? The AAM also says that China is involved in currency manipulation and is imposing tariffs on their exported goods.

Not only that, but some of what they ship to us is dangerous crap - I'm thinking about the tainted pet food that killed hundreds of American cats and dogs a few years ago, the Walmart flip flops that were giving people grotesque foot rashes, and the children's toys that were coated with high levels of lead paint which were recalled, including many items sold by Mattel.

But it's not just China; it's the fact that so many companies are greedy, cheap and care only about the bottom line when they send jobs overseas. They don't care about American workers and their families. Government just turns a blind eye to this enormous elephant in the room.

Here's the conundrum: according to ABC, if everyone spent a small amount of money on American goods on any given day, which goes back into our economy, we'd be creating 200,000 American jobs. The problem is so many of these items are often priced higher than their overseas-made counterparts. But if it means preserving what we have left that's manufactured here, isn't it worth it?

I encourage everyone to check out the ABC link at the beginning of my post; there's an interactive map highlighting American companies that are still producing American goods. I honestly think I'm going to splurge on something and pump a little money back into this country's economy. The AAM also gives some tips on what we can all do to help preserve American manufacturing.

14 comments:

Kitchen said...

Excellent point! Most definitely agree. It's greed of these companies and onus on the government for pushing manufacturing oversees. Hence, the call center rep you next call that can't speak English.

Marlene said...

Sadly, it's too late. We will never dig ourselves out of this mess. We're in too deep, and we now must reap what we've sown.

I still buy "Made in the U.S.A." whenever possible....and it isn't often enough. Makes me so angry.

Sassy Lassies Vintage Life said...

This whole thing makes me so sad. When we recently moved into a home and acquired all of the contents, almost 100% of them were MADE IN USA. Why? because this old gent(who owned the house for 50 years) bought them in the 40's, 50's and 60's and they were still around and usable in 2010.

Cookware, bedding,furniture,dishes and glasses...all made in the USA. We made good, solid things only to be replaced by disposable, cheap trinkets sold by big box stores and meant to be replaced every few years as the styles and colors change. It is a marketing ploy to keep us buying more and more. I WILL not buy into it. Sorry folks. It does not work for me.

A few years back I wrote a book and created a product to go with it, made 100% in the USA and using organic and recyclable products...what this did was increase the price to a place where no one would buy it. (It cost about $89.00) I meant for it to be a keepsake, something passed down from generation to generation. I put a lot of thought into it, but alas most Americans don't even understand this anymore. If it is not cheap...they won't buy it. So sad.

I took this product to a trade show and the big marketers LOVED it BUT all told me I should have had it made in China so the price would be lower. I now have hundreds of these in storage and no one to buy them. I have them on a website for less then they cost me to make and still it appears to be too high a price.

What have we gotten ourselves into?

Luis said...

There's one thing you failed to mention in your article: for something to be Made in America it must be manufactured by American workers and American labor costs much more than foreign labor, thus the price difference in goods. Your example of the guitar is a case in point. Gibsons DO cost more, but only because of the American labor used to make them. You can buy a foreign made guitar of equal quality at a much cheaper price.
Are American corporations greedy because they ship jobs elsewhere? Yes. But the American public demands low prices and must also take responsibility.

Charlie said...

What a great blog this was! You touched on so many reasons I do Obscurity & Decay www.obscurityanddecay.com. I wrote a bit about this issue myself in the "about" section there...part of why I am drawn to flea markets & thrift stores I think - good quality American-made stuff is there! Not Chinese made junk...even if it's old, it's so much more well built. I just bought an electric can opener and blender at the thrift store from 60's/70's and compared what was at Target...what a difference in quality. Older is better - often because quality is better - and it was made HERE!

Charlie

Pam@GoRetro said...

@Kitchen - oh yes, I am tired of foreign customer service reps masquerading as American with American-sounding first names. The company is not fooling anyone.

@Marlene - sadly, I think I agree...however, I'm hoping some bit of publicity will prevent things from getting worse.

@Sassy Lassies - I would actually love to see the product you created, if you don't mind posting the link. Such a shame that you couldn't get it off the ground here.

@Luis - Read it again - I did mention that American goods often have higher prices. Also, my closing point was that more Americans should consider paying a bit more to buy an American made good once in a while as it would help the economy and help keep jobs here. I highly encourage everyone to check out the interactive map of companies that make American products on the ABC site because not all of them are that more expensive than comparable foreign-made products.

@Charlie - I agree, sometimes older items that were made here are still ticking and work better than their modern, foreign-made counterparts.

I just discovered that you can no longer purchase an American-made television. Every single make/model is built overseas.

LaraAnn said...

I'm watching this. It is so pathetic that hardly anything is made in the U.S.A anymore. I think that on the one report on this station last week they went to souvenier shops in D.C looking for such products and when they finally did find one made here it cost twice as much as the one made in China or someplace like that. I also get sad and angry about this subject. Now I want to go around my house and see just how many items are made here, maybe some of the older stuff.

Things definitely aren't made as good as they used to be either. We've only had our washing machine for about 6 years and it died on us only because it's the computer part it would be very expensive to fix so we will just get a new one.
We had one in the mid 70s that lasted nearly 20 years.

Pam@GoRetro said...

@Lara Ann - you bring up a good point. Sometimes the more computerized an appliance becomes, the harder and more expensive it is to fix/replace. Sometimes the old fashioned "organic" stuff ran for years. I went to view a house not long ago that still had the original oven, from the 60s. The realtor claimed that it still worked.

Yes, I am angry, too, that American souvenirs aren't made here...even American flags and pins.

SUZY8-TRACK said...

This is a great argument for buying vintage...everything! At least most things made 30-60 years ago were made in this country! If I see Made in China, I usually pass...but it is getting more and more difficult these days. Sadly, your only other choices are Made in Portugal, India, Thailand, etc...never the U.S.A.

42N said...

Buy American wherever you can and support measures to keep America working.

Desiree said...

I see your point about customer service reps, but my family in Central America is doing pretty OK for themselves because they're able to process phone calls for Sprint. They get a lot of really mean people calling from the U.S. that complain about "their" jobs going overseas, but the truth is, a family here simply can't support itself on what my aunt and cousin make. They have accents but they're not stupid and yet they get tons of abuse. It's a very complex issue.

Anonymous said...

i was in the supermarket the other day and noticed that even garlic bulbs aren't made in the usa anymore. they come from over 7000 miles away. does garlic not any longer grow anywhere near texas that it has to come from 7000 miles away?

Lacey said...

"it's the fact that so many companies are greedy, cheap and care only about the bottom line when they send jobs overseas"

This is the standard battle cry and one that I have also used occasionally. But the question also is, how much are YOU willing to pay to keep someone else's job here?

IF you don't like supporting China then don't buy at Wall-mart. But if your budget has been reduced recently, what are you to do?
Do you want to go back to $2,000 computers, or are you happy you can get one for $500?
(BTW - What happened to all the "mom & pop" computer stores?)

If I buy a Toyota made in Tennessee, is that buying American? What about that electric car to save the environment? The engine was shipped in from one country, the battery from another, the body form a third. All that transportation had to cost the environment something. If is assembled here is that still American?

How much are will willing to spend for the pride of Buying American, and how much do we like the fact that a Color T.V. is cheaper now than it was 40 years ago?

I don't have a good answer to that.

Pam@GoRetro said...

@Lacey - I actually went out of my way a few times this year to buy American. I was willing to pay a higher price to keep or create a job here. In one case, I got an awesome deal of a pair of "Not Your Daughter's Jeans" brand jeans at Macy's. These are made in the USA. They were on the discount rack, and with my coupon I ended up paying $28 for a pair of jeans that originally was listed for $118. I also ordered two American-made t-shirts that weren't pricey at all...$14 each or something like that. With a Danforth pewter necklace that I bought in Vermont, I now have one outfit that is nearly 100% US-made!

My brother has gone out of his way to find an American-made snow shovel, and my mother looks for cookware that is stamped with Made in USA underneath. So sometimes you really can get a good deal on US-manufactured goods, if you're willing to look for them.

I have no problem paying a bit more for something that is made here, on occasion and if I can find it. ABC News continues to highlight companies and how many new jobs each was able to create, all because people cared enough to purchase something from them.

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