You can strengthen our economy and provide well-paying jobs for members of your extended American family by adopting a simple approach when you go shopping. The good news is you don’t have to learn any complicated skills or adopt a radically different world view. All you have to do is consider taking this pledge:
I will buy American products unless I have a darn good reason not to do so.
History of the American Worker
The creation of the American middle class after World War II stemmed in large part from the rise of the manufacturing sector in America. By the early 1970s, 26% of all American workers were employed in the manufacturing sector, 19 million Americans in total. At the dawn of the 21st century, 17 million Americans were still employed in the manufacturing sector. Just five years later, that figure had dropped to 14 million. By the end of 2009, less than 12 million Americans were still employed in the manufacturing sector (1). Between 2001 and 2012, more than 60,000 American factories closed their doors (2, 3, 4). The lives of millions of American manufacturing workers were devastated by this dramatic contraction of the manufacturing sector in this country.
History is replete with examples of great economic powers being bested by other nations that figure out how to better harness their nation’s resources in the pursuit of economic growth. What is unique about the decline of the manufacturing sector in the United States in the past two decades is that the wound is almost entirely self-inflicted. Americans working in the manufacturing sector were shocked to discover that their employers were willing to dismiss them and their co-workers and replace them with workers in far off locales (5).
If you are concerned about the plight of working people in this country, reading the last couple of paragraphs was probably a fairly depressing exercise. But take heart. You can join a movement that can create jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans. And all you have to do is go shopping! American workers produce world class cars, major appliances, furniture, apparel, footwear, tools, and household goods. Buying American isn’t a big deal if you keep a few ideas in mind.
Don’t Kill the Good for the Perfect
Revitalizing the American manufacturing sector does not require every American to purchase only products made in America with 100% American components. We can have a huge positive impact on our economy if we buy some American products when we go on our shopping expeditions. Besides, all or nothing approaches can rarely be sustained. It is why people don’t stay on diets. You might lose weight in the first two months, but if my diet requires that I can never again eat Reese’s Peanut Butter cups, my diet is doomed to failure. Who can resist peanut butter and chocolate forever? Nobody, that’s who. Similarly, if I told you that every single thing you buy for the rest of your life will need to be made in America of 100% American content, you wouldn’t sign on to the Simply American pledge for the long haul. We like choices when we go shopping. Anyone who asks Americans to limit all their consumer durable goods purchases to only American products made with 100% U.S. components is on a fool’s errand.
So please, when it comes to supporting American manufacturers and their workers, you don’t have to take an all or nothing approach. Go ahead, buy that German knife set if you want. But during your monster shopping trip for kitchenware, commit to buying some American products as well. How about a beautiful Fiesta dinnerware set? Or a Jacob Bromwell flour sifter, Or a pair of Cutco kitchen shears? See, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?
It’s Not that Big an Ask
If you are considering taking the Simply American pledge, you may be worried that you have just signed on for endless Google searches to ferret out the few remaining American made products. Don’t fret. For most of the products you need to purchase, finding a competitively priced product manufactured in the United States is about as difficult as falling out of a boat.
Cars and Trucks
It’s pretty easy to buy a vehicle assembled by Americans. Buying from the Big Three, Ford, Chevrolet and GM, is a very safe bet. But you can also create jobs for Americans if you buy a Toyota, Honda, a BMW X3 or X5 and specific American built models from Mercedes, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, Subaru, and Volkswagen models. Aside from providing jobs for
Americans, buying an American built car ensures that your carbon footprint won’t include the energy required to transport a foreign car to your local car lot.
Loads of companies in all parts of our country still make great affordable furniture for virtually every room in the house. Stanton has been making amazing sofas in Tualatin, OR, for over 40 years. Virtually any mattress you could ever want is made in the U.S. by firms like Casper, Tuft and Needle, and Sealy. Sealy alone has 25 plants in the U.S. that manufacture bedding. If you are really lazy and want to make it as easy as possible on yourself when it comes to buying American furniture, you only need to know two words: Room & Board. Room & Board is a furniture retailer and 95% of the furniture and furnishings they sell are made by members of our extended American family. Room & Board have an amazing website and brick and mortar shops in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Apparel, Footwear, and Socks
More than 95% of the apparel and 98% of the shoes sold in the U.S. are made abroad. But there are still lots of great clothing and shoes sewn by Americans. Every American I know owns at least one pair of jeans. So, consider buying an American pair of jeans made by All American Clothing, IMOGENE + WILLIE, or Left Field.
You will not need to cinch in your belt much to afford a Bison Designs purchase; many of Bison Designs‘ huge variety of web belts can be had for less a Jackson, i.e. $20.
Finally, American firms make a myriad of wonderful packs, jackets and bags out of leather. One of my favorite bag making firm is Hardmill of my home city of Seattle. Their bags are gorgeous.
Enough is Enough
Unless you’re Jay Leno or someone of his ilk, you don’t own a different car for each day of the week. Most kitchens have only one refrigerator, one dishwasher, and one range. It’s unlikely that you have two bathtubs in your bathroom. But this “one is enough” rule doesn’t hold for several types of consumer products and most specifically for one type of product: Apparel.
The world is literally awash in clothing. The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of garments in the world. American households spent nearly $2000 annually on apparel, footwear, and related products and services. Ninety-seven percent of the apparel we buy is imported into our country. Most of our imported clothing is produced by workers earning extremely low wages; many of these workers are children (6). Millions of foreign apparel workers work under conditions that for many are properly categorized as indentured servitude; “Forced labor occurs both in the production of raw materials and during the manufacturing stages, especially at lower-tier suppliers and in home-based or informal manufacturing” (7). Our imports of clothing has gutted the U.S. apparel manufacturing sector; between 1992 and 2012, employment in the apparel manufacturing industry in the US declined by more than 80% (8), and more than 750,000 American apparel manufacturing workers lost their jobs during that 20 year period (9).
We imported clothing so we could have more of it; in 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits (10). Today the average American woman owns 30 outfits — one for every day of the month. But a lot of those outfits don’t stay in the closet for long. Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles — about 85 percent of their clothes — each year, accounting for 9 percent of total non-recycled waste (11). There is a better way. Why not downsize your wardrobe? I’ll admit, American sewn clothing often costs more than clothing sewn overseas, for the reasons detailed above. But if you buy less clothing, you can afford to buy clothing made by Americans. So, the next time you actually need to replace, say a sweater, pause and consider purchasing a sweater that is sewn by the fine employees of Dehen in Portland, Oregon. You’ll shell out more clams than if you buy a disposable sweater from the Gap or Old Navy, but you will be able to hand that Dehen sweater down to your son or daughter given its amazing construction and timeless styling. Your wardrobe is yours. You are in charge. Consider downsizing it.
In closing, I hope you adopt the Simply American pledge. Together we can improve the lives of countless American workers, just by following the suggestions set forth above. Join me on the Simply American bandwagon. There is room on board and together we can literally change the face of the American economy by providing jobs for countless Americans.
John Briggs lives in Redmond, Washington and has been blogging about “Buying American” for the past seven years at www.simply-american.net. He published his first book, Simply American, through Lulu last year. He also shares pictures and stories about American products on Instagram at the_simply_american_book. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!