Since the beginning of the 2016 presidential election cycle, media airtime, click-bait headlines and radio broadcasts have been dominated by claims and prognostications of what’s best for America. At the forefront of this media attention has been American jobs and manufacturing—or lack thereof. The consensus is our jobs are gone and, depending on your political leanings, only Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump can save them.
Trade and labor policies can certainly help, but there’s a lot more to the equation.
As the general election approaches, American job creation will continue to be a hot topic. With the National Week of Making approaching even faster, I can’t help but reflect on it—not from a political standpoint, but a practical one.
As much as politicians want to spin American jobs and manufacturing into a problem only their policies will address, that’s simply not the case. There is an opportunity for you, me—and everyone else—to influence our destiny, regardless of political affiliation.
In 2015, Consumer Reports found 80% of Americans would rather buy American goods than products produced overseas. American Certified put it at 66%. A 2016 poll from the Associated Press found 75% of Americans of all income levels would like to buy American goods. That’s impressive, but why aren’t there more American products? Why aren’t manufacturing plants popping up across the nation?
It turns out we’re not always walking the walk.
That same AP survey found consumers prefer low prices over Made in the USA products, which they describe as “too costly or difficult to find.” The patriotic two-thirds from American Certified’s survey were told to exclude price and quality from their assessment, so take those results with a grain of salt.
There’s no denying it: in many categories, American Made goods are now more expensive and harder to find, but the quality of American products typically means they will last longer and not need to be replaced as quickly. And while most Americans are on a tight budget, you don’t have to risk your mortgage to make an impact. As we all know, it’s those small purchasing decisions that can ultimately shift the tide in a new direction.
Growing up in Detroit, my autoworker dad was firmly committed to buying the very products he built. He extended that behavior and his values to other household purchases. With four kids and one blue-collar income, we admittedly lived paycheck to paycheck. Yet my parents believed, “We don’t have enough money to buy cheap stuff.” They saved up to buy quality, or did without.
As author Ellen Ruppel Shell stated in her 2009 book, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, “In the world of cheap, ‘design’ has become a stand-in for quality. Companies such as H&M and Zara offer consumers the look they love at a price they can live with—but at what true cost? The genius of IKEA and other cheap-chic purveyors is that they have made fashionable, desirable, and even lovable objects nearly devoid of craftsmanship. The environmental and social implications of this are insidious and alarming.”
Consumer purchases represent 70% of the U.S. economy. That’s a great place to start influencing change. If each one of us were to allocate just 10% of our purchases to products that support an economy-changing ideal, like being Made in the USA, there would be a big ripple effect. That’s our thinking behind the idea of Citizen Commerce®.
I’d love for those purchases to be at The Grommet because we have spent nearly eight years cultivating brilliant products adhering to specific shopping values (such as Made in the USA, Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, or Social Enterprises), but we’re not the only place where it’s possible. Shop at Etsy, Uncommon Goods, ScoutMob, your farmer’s market, or locally owned stores.
Find U.S.-made products through sites like USA Love List, American Made Matters, or Buy Direct USA. Look for the “Made in USA” label when shopping. Doing so supports U.S. companies and small businesses, which just so happen to create two of every three new jobs. That is the surest way to bring back U.S. production.
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “But your site sells a lot of products made overseas.” You’re right. And do you know what the number one reason for a Maker’s inability to manufacture domestically is? It’s too expensive and causes the product price to be too high. It’s a classic Catch 22: the cost of manufacturing in the U.S. will drop when the volume of products being manufactured here increases.
American jobs and manufacturing cannot and will not come back overnight, so if we want this to happen, we should be prepared to play the long game. We at The Grommet are. Annie Clark, who is stocking her New Hampshire store’s shelves with quality products made in all 50 states, is. It’s the Maker Movement and you can be a part of that, too.
Here’s one guarantee I can make about American Made products: online outrage and punditry does little. If we want the economic landscape of the country to change, we can’t wait for the next occupant of the White House—just open that wallet and put your money where your mouth is.
Change comes at a price. The good news is, if we all chip in just 10% of our discretionary purchases to this cause, we can reduce the cost for companies to manufacture in America. As it becomes less expensive for companies to produce here, more companies will move their manufacturing back—and more U.S. jobs will be created. And isn’t that what everyone wants, regardless of who they plan to vote for in November?
So what say you, America? Do we want more American jobs and products?
It’s up to us.