One of my favorite Monty Python skits involved the Royal Society For Putting Things on top of other Things. During the skit, John Cleese explains that his chapter of the Society has not put one thing on top of another thing in the past year because most of the members in his chapter felt “the whole thing is a bit silly.” The Chairman of the Society replies, “I suppose it is a bit, what have we been doing wasting our lives with all this nonsense? Right, meeting adjourned forever!”
I felt a bit like the Chairman after I read an article in the New York Times on Thursday. It highlighted the fact that while manufacturing is returning to our shores, in some sectors this “reshoring” is not always creating a lot of jobs. And that is why I care about promoting American manufacturing. I believe we need every job we can get that pays a living wage. And pays a living wage without requiring the worker earning that wage to have a diploma from a university. But sometimes I worry that urging people to buy products made by members of our extended American family will not create all that many jobs. The Times article didn’t help assuage my worries.
While parts of the article made me a bit maudlin (or it could have been that I was listening to Morrissey while I read the article), I highly recommend it to you. It does a great job detailing the losses the apparel sector suffered in the last few decades; between 1990 and 2012, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the textile and apparel subsectors lost 76.5 percent of their jobs, or 1.2 million. In 1991, American-made apparel accounted for 56.2 percent of all the clothing bought domestically, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association. By 2012, it accounted for 2.5 percent. It also does a good job detailing the advantages to making things here in the States.
The graph relating to the American Giant Hoodie is very revealing for me. Our labor costs are about $10 more per hoodie than a hoodie made in Pakistan, but the hoodie is only about $7.00 more. I for one am willing to pay that difference because supporting American workers is worth it for me. I hope it is worth it for you as well. Maybe I only buy three American Giant sweatshirts rather than four so that I can stay within my annual “sweatshirt budget.” From what I learned from reading the Times article, I probably won’t have to replace my American Giant sweatshirts anytime soon.
I understand that automation is a fact of life in manufacturing. I am not a Luddite. But as a nation we need to have a discussion about what jobs will be available to our kids in the next few decades. No more than a 1/3 of our kids go to college. Given the cost of higher education, it seems unlikely that percentage will shoot up anytime soon. So what jobs will our country be able to offer the 70% that won’t be going to college? The trades are always a good bet since it is kind of tough to outsource the task of fixing your toilet or electrical panel. Retail wages are simply too low to support a middle class family. Manufacturing jobs are not the whole answer, but I think they are an important part to reviving the middle class.
Last year I visited the Hart Schaffner Marx factory outside Chicago and the Allen Edmonds plant in Port Washington, Wisconsin. There were plenty of machines being used, but there were lots of members of our extended American hard at work making wonderfully stylish suits, and incredibly well made shoes.
I urge you to join me in buying American made apparel and shoes. If you need help finding American brands to buy, just enter the name of the item of clothing you want in the search bar of my blog and you will probably find a post on the item I have done in the past two years.
And leave a comment on why you think buying American made goods is important. What do you think of my theory that revitalized manufacturing in this country can help rebuild the middle class? Am I all wet? Am I missing something? Should I take up a hobby? I read and respond to all comments, so let me know what you think.
Now get shopping!