Americans would rather pay less for a product made outside the U.S. instead of paying more for an American made item, according to a recent Associated Press-GfK survey.
Data came from an an online poll of 1,076 adults, where researchers asked whether respondents would choose to pay $85 for an American made pair of pants versus paying $50 for the same item made outside the US. An astounding 67% said they would go for the cheaper product with there being no difference in responses based on a participant's income.
Scott Paul, president of Alliance for American Manufacturing, says he understands how Americans are under the gun budget-wise but are torn with regard to being loyal to American made products.
"Anecdotally, people want to buy American," he says. "But when it comes down to it, people are looking at price and then going for the cheaper option, often not factoring in quality and durability. When you amortize the value of the product and really look at how long the item will be of use, your best choice is to buy American."
Paul says consumers will choose to buy American when the price differential is small. "However, as the price differential grows, you end up having less people opting for the 'Made in America' label," he says. "It's just a fact of life--many families are living paycheck to paycheck, making it unrealistic to expect people to buy American at all costs."
For Janice Weingarden Dickow, a mom and hairstylist based in Livonia, Mich, price is very important. "I love American made products and drive an American made car, but money does matter," she says.
Weingarden Dickow recounts a time when she discussed this topic with her adult son who was preparing to move out of her home and to another state. "My son graduated from high school and a year and a half later decided to move to Alabama," she says. "He was so against shopping at Walmart, because he said everything was from China or Japan or somewhere outside the country. He also thought they didn't pay their employees well so he didn't want to shop there."
While Weingarden Dickow says she was happy to see her son supported American made products, she wondered how easy it would be for him to stick to his convictions once he was living on his own.
"When he moved to Alabama and was living independently he started shopping at Walmart," she laughs. "He was faced with a budget and had to do what was necessary to make ends meet."
Paul says finding American made products at big box retailers like Walmart is not impossible. "You have to search a little harder, but American made products are sold at stores like Walmart," he says.
One of the biggest barriers to buying American can be availability. "With certain products, it's easier to locate products made in the U.S., but when it comes to electronics or mass marketed clothing, it simply isn't as easy," Paul says. The Alliance for American Manufacturing website is packed with blogs and lists of American-made products and information on how consumers can locate them.
Some Foreign Made Products Are Simply Dangerous
The massive pet food recall in 2007 drove a number of American consumers to purchase only American-made pet food. More than 1,000 dogs died as a result of consuming tainted pet food and treats manufactured in China, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a warning against the purchase of animal consumables coming from China. In addition to the deaths, the FDA noted the Chinese pet food and treat warning included more than 5,800 cat and dog illness, including liver, kidney and gastrointestinal illnesses.
"There are certain products that should not be negotiable when it comes to whether or not to buy American," Paul says. "Obviously, consumables for both pets and humans should be purchased by an American manufacturer. In China, they don't have the same regulations and scrutiny as mandated in the U.S."
Paul says many vitamin products are made in China as well as drywall and automotive parts such as tires. "When safety is an issue, you should pay extra for American made," he says. "Many homeowners remember the toxic Chinese drywall problems during the housing boom, which resulted in millions of dollars in repairs and replacements."
Most recently, hoverboards, the hottest holiday toy, turned dangerous as the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 52 incidents where the lithium ion batteries included inside the boards caught fire, amounting to over $2 million in property damage. Many of the hoverboards that caught fire appeared to be manufactured in China, which Paul says is the perfect example of when buying an American made product like this can be the difference between purchasing something that is made with safety in mind versus an item manufactured on the cheap.
Is 100% Made In America Possible or Affordable?
Dean Baker, co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Researchm says as long as American made products have to compete with foreign made goods, competition will be tough.
"It will be difficult, but there are two points to be made," Baker says. "First, one of the factors that make foreign goods cheaper is that the dollar is over-valued relative to other currencies. This is the reason that we have a large trade deficit. If the dollar were to fall by 15% to 20% against foreign currencies, this is an average, not a figure for all currencies, then the price of imports would rise relative to U.S. made goods and services. Also, our exports would be relatively cheaper to foreigners. This would lower the trade deficit and move the country closer to balanced trade."
Baker explains the other issue is that the United States could look to produce more high end goods where the cost of labor is less important. "Germany is an example of a country that has done this with great success," he says. "There are certainly areas in which the U.S. is also successful in producing high-end products. I think this is a good direction to turn, but it does have limits."
Countries like China and India are also capable of producing high-end products.
"While we may have a jump on these countries if we move quickly, over a longer period of time these countries will be competing with us in high end markets just as they compete today in the market for standardized manufactured goods," he says.