On Capitol Hill, the revelation drew the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike. “For too long, we’ve seen American manufacturing jobs—including textile and apparel jobs—shipped overseas due to unfair trade that has stacked the deck against American workers,” says Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, a longtime advocate of U.S. manufacturing. “The textile sector employs more than half a million workers in the United States—which is why the federal government should be purchasing, whenever possible, apparel that is domestically produced. With our widening trade deficit, we should be doing everything we can to support American manufacturing and job creation.”
Brown also introduced a bill, the Wear American Act of 2012, that would require 100 percent of the textiles and apparel purchased by federal agencies to be made in the United States from materials made or grown in this country. (Current law requires only 51 percent.) The bill would provide flexibility to federal agencies in the event that such textiles and apparel are either insufficient or unavailable.
Some analysts have dismissed the flap over our Olympic uniforms as election-year grandstanding, and there’s something to that. In the global marketplace, I’d rather see the United States dominate in technological innovation and advanced manufacturing than mass-market apparel.
Moreover, the U.S. Olympic Committee is really no different than the typical U.S. consumer. “Buy American” may be a popular notion, but most of us don’t put our money where our mouth is.
A March 2012 survey commissioned by House Beautiful magazine found that 51 percent of U.S. adults believe it’s especially important to buy American-made goods today, and 46 percent feel proud when they do. The survey also found that being made in America would be an important factor for 70 percent of consumers buying furniture, 68 percent buying appliances, 63 percent buying automobiles, 60 percent buying apparel, and 56 percent buying electronics.
In practice, it’s a different story. Only 49 percent said the last car they bought was made in America, and the percentages get progressively worse for furniture (43 percent), appliances (41 percent), apparel (33 percent) and electronics (20 percent). When asked to rank the most important criteria when purchasing a piece of furniture, consumers picked quality and price by a 2-to-1 margin over “made in the USA.”
On the other hand, it’s not so easy to find certain goods—like apparel and electronics—that are made in America. And even when a product is labeled as “Made in America,” there’s no guarantee that some, or even all, of it wasn’t made elsewhere.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in “Made in America.” But there’s more to a robust U.S. manufacturing sector than pocketbook patriotism.