What “Made in the USA” Means in 2020

For his first inauguration in 1789, President George Washington made a point of wearing locally sewn garments from Connecticut, rejecting any European fabric, as a symbol of our independence.

Ever since then, the phrases “Buy American” and “Made in the USA” have become points of pride in our national ethos. As we approach Independence Day 2020 amid social and economic upheaval, now is an apt time to re-examine what buying American means, and why it still matters.

The Everywhere Effect

The logic is simple – by investing more in US products that are completely sourced and manufactured here, more money goes back into US jobs, creating more economic security within our own borders. It also gives us a good thrill of pride and patriotism to know that the products we buy were 100% homegrown.

But the definition of buying American is a bit more complicated nowadays. In the age of globalization, the world is more connected than ever before, and consumers demand much higher-quality items. Inevitably some outsourcing of resources occurs. As a result, a lot of everyday products are made “everywhere” instead of one place.

Born in the USA (Sort Of)

By FTC standards, an official Made in the USA product must be “all or virtually all” made in the USA (50% of the cost is incurred in US, and final assembly takes place in US). Many of our everyday products, especially complex electronics, source their parts from several locations around the world as a matter of necessity.

iPhones, for instance, need most of their high-tech components from China, Korea, and Japan, but they wouldn’t run without the precious metals used for the circuitry in those components, which are sourced from the USA. Tim Heffernan’s excellent Wirecutter piece for the New York Times (which is well worth a full read) sums it up well:

“…People see ‘Made in China’ and think we don’t make anything anymore, even though most of that iPhone isn’t made in China. They do the final assembly, but the know-how and most of the parts come from other countries, including the United States…. It’s no longer 1950, where you can look at something and it’s made in the US, or it’s made in Germany, or it’s made in Japan.”

Heffernan also makes note that in the realm of automobiles, the domestic favorite Ford F-150 pickup truck is only 56% US/Canadian, compared to the Honda Accord, which is 65%. These days, “Made in the USA” can mean a lot of things.

National Support

The news that buying American doesn’t mean what it once meant may run the risk of dampening the celebratory spirit of the week. But never fret, for there are still companies that do make their products 100% in the good old U-S-of-A, and many more that meet FTC standards, and as we Americans like to say, it’s a free country and you can still buy American-made products.

There are also still a whole bunch of great reasons to do it. In the short term, they put money back into the hands of many Americans, something that is without a doubt a positive right now. In the longer-term, buying American helps lower our budget and trade deficits, and adds to overall job security.

Buying American Still Matters

Buying American-made products may not be able to recover the jobs we’ve lost in 2020, but it’s a warm beacon that may help steer our way out of uncertainty. Choosing products made in the USA, even partially, makes a real economic impact. It’s also an opportunity to show that we care about fellow citizens during a national rough patch. Whether you do it out of a sense of patriotic duty, or just because it makes you feel good, it still matters in a big way.

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