Buying American-made not as easy as it sounds

By Anita Doberman

Many of us remember the “Made in the USA” movement which seemed pervasive during the 1980s. Backed up by catchy television commercials, the marketing campaign featured consumers and business people declaring “It matters to me.” The press was full of dire predictions about the state of American manufacturing, and there was considerable backlash against foreign products, with Japanese cars bearing the brunt.

The movement disappeared for years, but it’s been resurgent lately, as the economy is faltering and Americans are once again worried about our long-term fiscal health. In the last few months there have been well-publicized recalls of Chinese-made products and a push for buying American. But actually putting this into practice takes a little work.

Certain products are easy to spot, like Whirlpool, which acquired Maytag in 2006 and is an all-American company. The same is true for Hoover, the famous name in vacuum cleaners. But these are just two examples.

American brands don’t necessarily mean American — and foreign brands aren’t always all that foreign. An American car, for example, might be manufactured in Mexico, or put together in the U.S. with parts made overseas. And foreign automakers, particularly the Japanese, invested heavily in U.S. manufacturing, in part to forestall 1980s-style protest and boycott. A new Toyota might just generate more money in the American economy than a new American car.

And when is the last time you saw a mainstream toy that wasn’t made in China? The globalized economy and the growth of major chains, like Wal-Mart, have brought affordable products to millions of Americans who would otherwise find them unattainable. But it has also resulted in a near disappearance of American manufacturers from the toy market. The recall of Chinese-made items was a who’s who of manufacturers; these weren’t fly-by-night off-brands, but names we’ve known for years.

There are still American-made toys out there, but many of them are wooden, often nostalgia pieces that aren’t always at the top of most children’s Christmas lists.

The Made in the USA movement is politically charged. What some see as protectionist, others see as necessary to protect the U.S. against economic depredation that robs us of our jobs and our hard-earned cash.

So what can you do? First, do a little research on the subject to figure out where you stand. If you decide to buy American, you can find lists online of domestically made products. There are thousands of products out there, but you can’t always expect just to go to the mall and find them easily separated from the rest.

The good news is that the current wave of recalls has brought the issue back to the forefront of the public mind — and opened up an opportunity.

As manufacturers realize that the American public is apprehensive about foreign made products, expect them to see opportunity and profit in providing more, and easier to find, American-made products.

Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida.