Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy the American product, according to a new nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
More than 80 percent of those people cited retaining manufacturing jobs and keeping American manufacturing strong in the global economy as very important reasons for buying American. About 60 percent cited concern about the use of child workers or other cheap labor overseas, or stated that American-made goods were of higher quality.
And people would pay extra to buy American. More than 60 percent of all respondents indicated they’d buy American-made clothes and appliances even if those cost 10 percent more than imported versions; more than 25 percent said they’d pay at least an extra 20 percent.
An organization called buyCanadian.ca quotes similar statistics, and indicates a study which showed that 45% of Canadians attempted to buy Canadian-made goods last year.
Clearly, buying products made in North America has advantages, but buying union-made North American products offers a much higher guarantee they were not made in home-grown sweat shops or by employers who treat their employees badly, or who favour hiring low-wage offshore workers to produce goods in Canadian plants.
Consumer Reports says If you want to buy American or Canadian-made products, these tips should help:
- Read labels very carefully
• in Canada, https://buycanadianfirst.ca/categories
- Contact a manufacturer directly.
Why are foreign nations so appealing to manufacturers? Simple economics, for starters. In 2010, compensation costs (wages and benefits) for manufacturing jobs in the U.S. were $34.74 per hour on average. That’s lower than in 13 northern and western European countries, but far higher than costs in China: $1.36 per hour (in 2008. Another manufacturing powerhouse, India, has even lower hourly compensation costs than China.
The appeal of foreign countries may wane. China gets more expensive every year. By 2015, Chinese wages will average $6.15 per hour, still well below the U.S. and Canadian minimum wage, but North American worker productivity is significantly higher. When you consider all the factors, the true cost to manufacture goods from China will be only about 10 percent cheaper than to make them domestically in another few years.
The U.S. makes about three-quarters of all the manufactured goods (including components) it consumes. A large percentage of these goods are also staples in Canada. The chemical and plastics industries are thriving, thanks to declining natural gas prices, and foreign automakers including BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, and Volkswagen have opened plants in the U.S. Master Lock returned (“onshored” or “insourced” in labor-speak) 100 union jobs to its Milwaukee lock factory. Among the companies that have dug in their heels and continued to manufacture domestically is Lenox, which says it’s the only maker of fine bone china in the U.S.
Some companies are bucking the outsourcing trend even in industries that have largely fled the U.S.: large appliances, electronics, and apparel.
Appliances. In 2000, Michigan-based Whirlpool manufactured most of its front-loading washers in Germany. Now the company is in the midst of making a five-year, $1 billion investment in U.S.-based plants, facilities, and equipment. Of the products Whirlpool sells in the U.S., it makes 80 percent in unionized U.S. plants. And it continues to ramp up production of front-loaders in Ohio, where it already makes dryers, dishwashers, freezers, and top-loaders.
“On the one hand, U.S. labor costs are often higher than in other countries,” says Casey Tubman, Whirlpool’s general manager of cleaning. “But when you look at the higher productivity for American workers and consider the fact that it’s very expensive to ship something as big as a refrigerator or washer, we can quickly make up those costs.”
Last year, KitchenAid returned the manufacture of hand mixers from China to the U.S., and GE opened two factories in Kentucky to make hot-water heaters and refrigerators. A spokesman for Sears told us that “through our manufacturing partner, Electrolux, more than 1,200 new union jobs will be created at a plant being built in Memphis.”
Electronics. Few TVs, cell phones, or digital cameras are made in America, but in December, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “Next year, we will do one of our existing Mac lines in the United States.” China-based Lenovo, the world’s second-largest personal computer maker, announced last October that it would start making some PCs in North Carolina, bucking a trend “that has seen electronics manufacturing jobs migrate overseas for more than two decades,” the company said. And Element Electronics, an American company, has been assembling LCD TVs in its Detroit factory since January 2012. The company says that opting for domestic production was “an emotional decision . . . maybe even a patriotic choice.”
For an extensive list of made-in-America products, check out Consumer Reports’ list at
A Canadian list can be found at https://buycanadianfirst.ca/categories
And of course, to access lists of products and services made union in both Canada and the United States, go to ShopUnion.ca and enter a key word in our search menu. It will show products, where they are manufactured, a link to their web site, and the union which represents the workers who do the work.
Adapted from Consumer Reports April 11, 2017