Sunday, July 18, 2010

Investigating the American Home: An Unscientific Survey

Take this quick quiz:

Which one of the items at right, found in any typical American home, was actually made in America?
1. cheese board
2. embroidered pillow
3. flip flops
4. serving dish
5. quilted placemat
6. beach sign
  If you guessed none you'd be correct. My friends and I conducted a very unscientific survey in a weekend home near the shore. Filled with attractive decorations and comfortable furniture with a garage typical of any homeowner, only about 4 of the random 2o items we selected were actually made in America. The country that benefits most from our indulgences is of course China. Then in order came Mexico, Japan, the USA, Thailand, Germany and Taiwan. 

  Like I said, very unscientific but telling nonetheless. 

  With our unemployment at a sustained record high with manufacturing near the top of the list of industries suffering from the recession, depression, whatever we're actually in, most of the things we purchase come from somewhere else. I don't think any of us would be surprised but the extent of it surely is something to think about.

  Back in the 70s there was a commercial that played often on TV. It was sponsored by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and it had a catchy tune sung by the actual workers (see words and link below) but call me crazy or patriotic ... I really used to look for the label! Where did we (I) go wrong?

Look for the union label
when you are buying a coat, dress or blouse.

Remember somewhere our union's sewing,
our wages going to feed the kids, and run the house.
We work hard, but who's complaining?
Thanks to the I.L.G. we're paying our way!
So always look for the union label,
it says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.!
In 2009, the US exported approximately 70 billion worth of products to China. By contrast that same year, China exported almost 300 billion to the US. Yikes!

This story was in last week's Financial Times:

China imports widen US trade gap

By Alan Rappeport in New York, Alan Beattie in London and Anna Fifield in Washington
Published: July 13 2010 14:48 | Last updated: July 14 2010 01:28
A surge in imports from China pushed the US trade gap sharply wider in May, a
dding to a stream of weak data that has put Barack Obama’s administration under pressure for its inability to right the faltering economy and stimulate the stagnant jobs market.
The trade deficit grew by 4.8 percent to $42.3bn, according to commerce department figures, the highest since November 2008 and at odds with the consensus of economists, who forecast the gap would shrink in May.

With data like this is it any wonder that our unemployment figures are the way they are? I don't pretend to be an economist (or even economical for that matter) but if we keep buying these cheap imports, which I admit are hard to resist, we will NEVER be the powerhouse country we once were. To turn this around, it must begin with us. I suggest we check our own buying habits and become aware of what exactly we have in our homes.  Do your own survey. . . check things within arms reach of where you are sitting as you read might be surprised!
  One thing that luckily seems exempt was food products. Most of the ones we looked at were made here in our country. I suppose we should be grateful for that!
Here's our list of home items:
  • Recycled napkins: Germany
  • Duck decoy: China
  • Coaster set: China
  • Ikea embroidered pillow: China!
  • glass bowl: China
  • Twizzlers: USA!
  • Cheese dish: China
  • Quilted placemats: China
  • Picture frame: Thailand
  • Salad bowl: China
  • Hand soap: China
  • Bedspread and pillows: China
  • Paint brush: USA!
  • Garden Spade: USA!
  • Closet clothes rack: Taiwan
  • Turtlewax: USA!
  • Metal ladder: Mexico
  • Toilet seat: Mexico
  • Bicycle: China
  • Couch blanket throw: China

That's do the math!!
Tomorrow: Fashionable Flip Flops


  1. Susan, Good post. see 7/22/10 NYT article "Shoppers on a diet..." about two initiatives to trim American fashion spending. One experiment, The Great American Apparel Diet (TGAAD) mentions a project/book by Sarah Bongiorni you might find interesting: A Year without “Made in China”: One Family’s True Life Adventure in the Global Economy. Both that and "Six items or less" where you limited yourself to just 6 clothing pieces for a month sounded like something I'd like to attempt as part of my desire to ruthlessly de-clutter my closet.

  2. Thanks Joan. I'll read the NYT article. I think I'll make this a recurring post!