Walk into any big-box store, pick up an item at random off the shelf, and look at the label. Chances are you’ll see the same three words on the tag: “Made in China.” Depending on the product, it might read “Made in Mexico” or “Made in Taiwan” – but it almost certainly won’t say “Made in the USA.”
It wasn’t always this way. Decades ago, many or even most products on store shelves were American-made. But since the late 1990s, American manufacturing has seen a steady decline. Many U.S. companies have moved their factories – and the jobs they provided – to other countries where labor is cheaper, such as China and Mexico.
However, there are some signs this trend is starting to reverse itself. The Reshoring Initiative, a nonprofit group aimed at restoring American manufacturing jobs, reports that more than 300 companies have moved production back to the United States since 2010, creating about 240,000 new jobs. As a result, that “Made in USA” label – though still rare – is slowly making its way back onto more products.
Reasons to Buy American-Made Products
According to a 2015 report by Consumer Reports, 80% of American shoppers say they prefer to buy goods made in the United States. More than 60% say they’d even be willing to pay 10% more for an American-made product.
Shoppers have many different reasons for choosing American-made goods, including the following:
- Jobs. The most common reason shoppers give for buying American is to help save or create jobs in the United States. According to a 2015 report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) the U.S. lost a total of 5.7 million manufacturing jobs between 1998 and 2013 – partly because of the Great Recession, but mostly because of trade imbalances with foreign nations like China and Mexico.
- Lower Carbon Footprint. Products made overseas have a higher carbon footprint than U.S.-made goods. Goods made in China or India have to be shipped all the way across the ocean to reach American stores, burning fossil fuel and spewing out greenhouse gases with every mile they travel.
- Less Pollution. One reason it’s cheaper to make goods in developing countries is that many of them have few or no regulations to protect the health of the air and water. Many factories overseas that produce goods for export to the United States also produce large amounts of hazardous chemicals that pollute the air, water, and soil. A 2014 paper by a team of Chinese researchers, published in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that the U.S. has effectively “outsourced” much of its air pollution to China, where more than 33% of sulfur dioxide emissions and around 25% of nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide come from the production of goods for export.
- Human Rights. In addition to having weaker environmental regulations, the countries that produce the goods Americans buy often have no laws to protect the rights of workers. A 2015 report from the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights documents how Chinese workers who produce toys for American brands such as Hasbro, Mattel, and Disney work 12- to 13-hour days and sleep on plywood bunk beds in crowded, dirty, and freezing dormitories. An earlier report from 2006 uncovered child labor at a factory in Bangladesh that produced clothing sold by Walmart and JCPenney. Conditions in these foreign sweatshops can even turn deadly, as in the 2013 collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 employees.
- Health. The lack of environmental and safety regulations overseas doesn’t just put foreign workers at risk – it can also threaten the health of American consumers. In 2007, dozens of types of children’s toys made in China were recalled because they were unsafe. Some posed a choking hazard, while others contained dangerous chemicals like lead paint and kerosene, according to The New York Times.
- A Stronger Economy. Buying American-made goods doesn’t just support the workers who make those goods. Its benefits also ripple out through the entire economy. When American factories prosper, they hire American construction firms to expand their buildings, American accounting firms to handle their money, and American energy suppliers to provide them with power. The EPI estimates that every U.S. manufacturing job supports an additional 1.4 jobs in other parts of the economy.
Understanding the Labels
Unfortunately, figuring out which products are made in the United States isn’t always a simple matter of checking the label. In theory, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires all products labeled as “Made in USA” to have all or nearly all their content made in this country, including parts, processing, and labor. However, the FTC doesn’t have the resources to check every product that’s sold. Thus, it’s not unusual to see products boldly labeled as “Made in the USA” that are actually from China, according to a business consultant interviewed by Consumer Reports.
Also, while the FTC regulates the use of the words “Made in USA,” products labeled as “Assembled in USA” or “Designed in USA” aren’t necessarily made from American-made parts. The FTC also doesn’t place any limits on the use of patriotic symbols, such as the American flag. A product can have a huge Stars and Stripes logo splashed all over the package and only a tiny disclaimer at the bottom saying that it’s made entirely from imported parts.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that most products that are legitimately American-made are not actually required to say so. The only exceptions are automobiles, textiles, and other items made of wool. According to Consumer Reports, many companies that make some products in the U.S., such as Kenmore, don’t mention this fact on the label because they also have contracts with factories overseas.
The best way to identify American-made goods from their labels is to look for the “Country of Origin” label. United States Customs and Border Protection requires that all imported goods must be clearly marked to show where they come from. The marking must be both conspicuous and legible, so you should be able to find it easily on the package. If you don’t see a Country of Origin marking anywhere on the product, that’s a clear sign that it’s made in the United States.
Finding American-Made Products
Even if all the products at Target and Walmart seem to be made in China, it’s actually possible to buy nearly anything, from a new sweater to a washing machine, from an American manufacturer – if you know where to look. Numerous websites, such as Made in USA, Americans Working, and the USA Love List, exist for the sole purpose of helping U.S. consumers spend their shopping dollars in ways that support U.S. workers.
These days, it’s a bit tricky to identify which cars are “American,” since a car that’s assembled in the United States probably contains parts from many other parts of the world. On top of that, many cars built with American-made parts don’t sell very well, which means they don’t provide as many jobs for U.S. workers as cars with less domestic content.
To help consumers purchase vehicles that support the most American jobs, the auto-buying site Cars.com has developed an “American Made Index.” This list includes cars that are assembled in United States, contain at least 75% American-made parts, and sell in large numbers to American consumers. Unfortunately, this list keeps getting shorter. In 2015, it contained just seven models – the first time it had ever dropped below ten.
Those seven cars are:
- Toyota Camry. Although Toyota is a Japanese company, it assembles the Camry at plants in Indiana and Kentucky. Edmunds.com. The average price paid for this car, according to Edmunds.com, is around $30,500 – a fairly modest price, considering that the site’s sedan buying guide says midsize sedans can cost anywhere from $18,000 to upwards of $80,000. estimates that production of this midsize sedan provides jobs for about 5,900 U.S. autoworkers – far more than any other model on the list. The 2015 non-hybrid Camry is also a well-reviewed car, earning an A grade from
- Chevrolet Traverse. This SUV is assembled in Lansing, Michigan, where it provides jobs for about 1,900 workers. The 2015 Traverse isn’t rated at Edmunds.com, but the 2014 model earned an A grade, and owners who review the 2015 model on the site give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Edmunds.com says the average price paid for the 2015 Traverse is around $33,300. This is typical for a midsize SUV, which can cost anywhere from “the mid-$20Ks…to the mid-$40Ks,” according to SUV buying guide.
- Toyota Sienna. Assembled in Princeton, Indiana, this minivan employs an estimated 1,800 U.S. autoworkers. Like the Traverse, the 2015 Sienna isn’t rated on Edmunds.com, but the site gives the 2014 model an A, and owners award it 4.5 stars out of 5. Its average price of about $30,600 paid is typical for minivans, which generally “start in the upper $20,000s” and can exceed $45,000, according to minivan buying guide.
- Honda Odyssey. Honda, another Japanese automaker, employs about 1,500 workers in Lincoln, Alabama to produce its Odyssey minivan. The 2015 Odyssey receives an A at Edmunds.com, but owner reviews are less impressive, giving the minivan only 3.5 stars out of 5. Edmunds.com puts its average price paid at around $38,600, a bit towards the high end for a minivan.
- GMC Acadia. The Acadia SUV is made by GMC, a division of General Motors. Production of this model supports approximately 1,000 workers in Lansing. The 2015 Acadia doesn’t have a grade at Edmunds.com, and the handful of owners who review it there give it only 3.5 stars. Its average price paid, around $39,700, is higher than the Traverse’s, but still fairly typical for a midsize SUV.
- Chevrolet Corvette. The only sports car on the list, the Chevy Corvette is assembled in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where it provides jobs for 800 to 900 workers. There are several versions of the 2015 Corvette – the Z06 Coupe earns an A grade at Edmunds.com, while the Stingray Z51 Coupe receives a B. The Corvette is by far the most expensive car on the American Made Index, with an average price paid of nearly $65,900. However, performance car buying guide says this is a normal price for a car of this type, which “can range from just over $20,000 to somewhere around $1 million.”
- Buick Enclave. Buick, another GM division, manufactures the Enclave SUV in Lansing. However, this model provides jobs for fewer than 500 workers. Its ratings are fairly unimpressive, as well – while Edmunds.com doesn’t review the 2015 Enclave, it gives a C grade to the 2016 version. However, owners are more positive about the 2015 version, giving it 4.5 stars out of 5. The Enclave is classified as a luxury midsize SUV, a type that Edmunds.com says starts around $32,000 and can reach more than $100,000; the Enclave’s average price paid is toward the low end of that range, at $46,000.
Only half the cars on the American Made Index are actually made by U.S. automakers. However,points out that this list evaluates specific cars, not companies. On the whole, the site notes, the “Detroit Three” – Chevrolet, GM, and Ford – employ more American workers than foreign car companies, and they also build the majority of cars made chiefly from American-made parts. So if you care less about where your particular car was made and more about supporting companies that provide American jobs, buying from one of these companies is still a reasonable way to go.
Next to a car, a major appliance is probably the biggest and most expensive machine most people will ever shop for. Unfortunately, AmericansWorking.com says identifying American-made appliances is difficult, as many companies make some models in U.S. factories and others abroad. In addition, companies that make appliances in the United States don’t always advertise that fact.
manage to identify several appliance companies that make all or some of their products in the United States, including Maytag, GE, and Bosch. However, it recommends checking a specific model at the store before you buy to confirm that it says “Made in the USA” on the label.
Another good source to consult is Consumer Reports. Its 2015 report, “Best American-Made Appliances,” lists dozens of large and small appliances that are made in the U.S. and also perform well in the magazine’s rigorous lab-based tests. Anyone can view the list, but you need a paid subscription to the website to view detailed ratings for each product.
Brands that feature prominently on the Consumer Reports list include:
- Whirlpool. According to Consumer Reports, Whirlpool is the largest appliance manufacturer in the world. Based in Benton Harbor, Michigan, it has eight U.S. factories employing 15,000 American workers – more than any other appliance manufacturer. However, only about 80% of the Whirlpool appliances sold in the U.S. are actually made in the States, and even those contain some foreign-made parts. Whirlpool products on Consumer Reports’ recommended list include three refrigerators, two washing machines, and a wall oven.
- Maytag. Maytag is a U.S. appliance manufacturer that was acquired by Whirlpool in 2006. Its products feature prominently in nearly every category on Consumer Reports’ list. Recommended Maytag products include two fridges, two ranges, two wall ovens, two washing machines, and one freezer.
- GE. GE Appliances, based in Louisville, Kentucky, is one of the few appliance manufacturers that clearly labels its products to show just how much of their content is American-made. For instance, the label on GE bottom-freezer refrigerators explains that they contain 87% domestic parts. Consumer Reports recommends one GE wall oven, three GE ranges, and one GE washer, as well as a refrigerator from the company’s high-end GE Profile line.
- Frigidaire. Although Frigidaire was founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana, it was acquired by the Swedish company Electrolux in 1986. However, it still operates five plants in the United States, including one in Tennessee that opened in 2013. According to Consumer Reports, several high-performing Fridgidaire freezers are made in the U.S.
- KitchenAid. KitchenAid is another brand owned by Whirlpool. It’s best known for its small appliances, such as stand mixers, three of which make Consumer Reports’ list. However, the magazine also gives high marks to KitchenAid dishwashers (all manufactured in Findlay, Ohio) and pro-style ranges (made in Cleveland, Tennessee).
- Bosch. Bosch is a German company, but it manufactures some of its dishwashers at a factory in New Bern, North Carolina. Four of these earn recommendations from Consumer Reports. Bosch also owns Thermador, which makes professional-style ranges in Campbell County, Tennessee. However, none of these make the Consumer Reports list.
Most of the American-made products on Consumer Reports’ list are fairly high-end. For instance, the list of recommended refrigerators includes French-door and bottom-freezer models costing $1,250 to $2,600, but no inexpensive top-freezers. Similarly, the ranges on the list all cost $1,530 or more, while the top-rated electric range at ConsumerSearch costs only $850. However, there are several more modestly priced appliances on the list, including a $700 Bosch dishwasher and two washing machines costing $650 or less.
Computers and Electronics
Electronic products, such as computers, cell phones, and TV sets, are almost entirely made overseas. Even Apple, an iconic American brand that puts labels on some of its products boasting that they’re “Designed by Apple in California,” does nearly all of its actual manufacturing in China.
According to Consumer Reports, exactly one personal computer qualifies for the “Made in USA” label: Apple’s ultra-high-end Mac Pro desktop, which is manufactured in Austin, Texas from domestic components. An Apple executive interviewed by Bloomberg Business claims that the company employs more than 2,000 people in 20 states to build this computer. However, given that the Mac Pro starts at $3,000, it’s not exactly a practical choice for the average user.
Ironically, while U.S. companies such as Apple do their manufacturing in China, Lenovo, a Chinese company, opened a factory in Whitsett, North Carolina in 2013 to give itself quicker access to the U.S. market. Products produced there include the ThinkPad Helix convertible ultrabook (priced around $800).
Another company assembling computers in the U.S. with some foreign parts is Lotus, a self-described family business based in Florida. Although its products aren’t widely covered in computer publications, its Solstice 550 laptop (starting at $1,100) receives an enthusiastic review on Laptop Tester Reviews.
You can also find electronic products made entirely or partly in the U.S. in a few other categories:
- Phones. When Motorola was owned by Google, it manufactured its Moto X smartphone in Fort Worth, Texas. However, TechRadar reports that four months after Lenovo bought the company in 2014, this plant closed down. So for the time being, the only way to own an American-made smartphone is to buy a refurbished Moto X made before 2014.
- Televisions. Element Electronics is an American company that assembles LED TV sets in Winnsboro, South Carolina, and says its mission is to “bring TV back to our shores.” Its EL Series TVs are sold exclusively at Walmart for remarkably low prices – between $150 and $387 – but they don’t get particularly high ratings from users.
- Audio Equipment. In addition to TVs, Element manufactures sound bars and is working on a Bluetooth audio player. Other American manufacturers include Grado Labs, which makes well-reviewed headphones by hand in Brooklyn, New York, and Milbert Amplifiers, which makes amplifiers for musical instruments.
Although U.S. manufacturing as a whole has declined since the late ’90s, the U.S. furniture industry is actually doing pretty well. Although American furniture makers do have to compete with cheap furniture from overseas, they have two big advantages: lower shipping costs and better access to U.S. customers. This allows them to respond more quickly to changes in demand, so they are always making what people are most eager to buy.
Furniture made in the U.S. is generally more expensive than the cheap pressboard pieces sold at places like IKEA and Target. However, American-made furniture is typically of higher quality as well. Many American furniture makers craft their pieces by hand from solid wood and other natural materials and sell them online or in selected stores.
No matter what type of furniture you’re looking for, you can probably find a U.S. manufacturer that offers it. Several examples include:
- Vermont Woods Studios. All the pieces at Vermont Woods Studios are made in Vermont from solid hardwoods, including cherry, maple, walnut, and oak. The company sells bedroom, living room, dining room, office, and outdoor furniture in a variety of styles, from mission style to modern. This quality doesn’t come cheap though, with prices starting at around $810 for a dining table and $1,930 for a dresser. You can buy Vermont Woods furniture online or at the company’s showroom in Vernon, Vermont.
- Online Amish Furniture. Online Amish Furniture sells solid wood furniture handmade to order by 180 Amish craftsmen in Ohio and Indiana. The site offers furniture for every room in the house, and you can choose the type of wood and color of stain you prefer for any piece. Pieces come in a variety of styles, including traditional, contemporary, mission, and Shaker. Prices range from about $130 for a simple high stool, to $4,180 for an elaborate entertainment armoire – not including shipping.
- Simplicity Sofas. High Point, North Carolina-based Simplicity Sofas specializes in upholstered furniture that fits into small spaces. Handcrafted by North Carolina artisans and sold exclusively online, Simplicity Sofas are shipped in pieces so that you can easily fit them through narrow doorways, into elevators, and up twisting staircases. The company uses a patented Quick Assembly System that makes it possible to put a piece together in a matter of minutes. Prices range from $300 for a small ottoman to around $2,000 for a top-of-the-line sofa.
- Ultimate Sack. The foam-filled beanbag chairs at Ultimate Sack hark back to the disco era. They range in size from the $80 miniature “kids’ sack” to the $260 “corner sack,” on which several people can snuggle up together. The site also offers foam-stuffed footstools, dog beds, and large floor pillows. Made in the U.S. from domestic materials, Ultimate Sacks have removable, sturdy canvas covers that come in a variety of colors, and they are backed by a three-year warranty.
- White Lotus Home. Based in Highland Park, New Jersey, White Lotus Home sells handmade mattresses, futons, pillows, and bedding made from natural and organic materials. The company also offers solid wood futon frames and other wood furniture for the bedroom and office. All products are made in New Jersey, using domestic materials whenever possible while keeping waste to a minimum. “Green cotton” mattresses start at around $515, and organic mattresses start at $1,255. You can buy White Lotus furniture online and in stores in 15 states.
Clothing poses one of the biggest challenges for shoppers who want to buy American. Forbes magazine reported in 2008 that these days, even luxury brands are having most of their clothes sewn in China. Inexpensive “fast fashion” brands, such as H&M, are increasingly moving their operations into other countries where labor is even cheaper, such as Vietnam. According to Consumer Reports, more than 90% of all the clothing sold in the U.S. is made elsewhere. However, considering how much clothing Americans buy each year, even a small percentage of it is still enough to offer you lots of choices.
One particularly well-known company that makes all its clothing in the U.S. is the aptly named American Apparel, which produces women’s, men’s, and children’s clothing in its Los Angeles factory, with a focus on trendy designs for the under-30 crowd. At around $90 for a pair of jeans and $40 for a sweatshirt, American Apparel clothing is much more expensive than the cheap foreign-made garments sold at budget chains like Target and Walmart. However, compared to similar brands like Urban Outfitters, it’s pretty close in price, with the added benefit of supporting American jobs.
You can find U.S.-made clothing in nearly any category, including:
- Blue Jeans. The iconic American brand Levi’s offers only a limited selection of jeans made in the United States, and they all cost at least $130 – more than twice the price of Levi’s regular line. However, you can also buy Diamond Gusset men’s and women’s jeans, sewn in Georgia, for around $60 a pair. North Carolina-based Texas Jeans goes even further, using 100% U.S.-made denim for all its men’s, women’s, and kids’ jeans – while still charging as little as $25 a pair.
- Casual Wear. Spreadshirt, a site that makes custom T-shirts, has two of its four factories in the States: one in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and one in Henderson, Nevada. Eileen Fisher, a line of casual clothing for women, produces about 20% of its clothes in New York and Los Angeles – you can find these items on its website by clicking on “This is Eco” and selecting the “Made in USA” tag. Karen Kane, another maker of women’s wear, produces about 80% of its clothing in the United States, according to Bizmology. Karen Kane clothes are available at major department stores such as Macy’s and Lord & Taylor.
- Formal Wear. BL Couture, a specialty shop at the online marketplace Etsy, offers a multi-functional evening dress it calls “The ONE Dress.” Made in Farmington, New Mexico, this versatile dress has a draped top that can be worn in dozens of way, from short-sleeved to strapless to off the shoulder. The dress is available in sizes 0 to 28, in both short and long lengths, and in more than 70 color and fabric choices, with prices ranging from $65 to $175. Some versions of the dress can even work as a wedding dress – for far less than the $1,357 the average bride spent on her gown in 2014, according to The Knot.
- Outerwear. Filson makes luggage and clothing, including coats and jackets for both men and women, at its factory in Seattle. Prices for men’s coats range from around $200 to $700 – quite a bit higher than competitors such as L.L.Bean – and all garments are backed by an unconditional guarantee. To go with your winter coat, Stormy Kromer makes a wide selection of hats and other winter accessories for men, women, and children in its Ironwood, Michigan factory. Prices for hats start at about $40, and again, all products come with a lifetime warranty.
- Underwear. Hanky Panky makes women’s undergarments and sleepwear in the northeastern States, using U.S.-made materials whenever possible. Their underwear is costly, though; prices start at $29 for one pair of panties, far more than the cheapest styles at Victoria’s Secret. The same goes for the men’s underwear sold by Union House Apparel, which costs more than $10 per pair even when bought in bulk.
- Socks. Wigwam Mills offers a wide variety of American-made, high-performance athletic socks for men, women, and youth, with prices starting at around $10 a pair. Maggie’s Organics sells men’s, women’s and children’s socks knitted in the U.S. from organic, Fair Trade wool and cotton; prices start at around $5 per pair.
If clothes made in the U.S. are hard to find, shoes can be next to impossible. When you scan the aisles of a typical footwear chain retailer or the shoe section at a major department store, you’ll see one pair after another made in East Asian nations like China, Indonesia, and Korea. Therefore, if you want to buy American, you must do a bit of searching to find footwear that fits both your feet and your values.
You also need to be prepared to pay extra. Like American-made furniture, American-made shoes tend to be both pricier and higher-quality than the cheap styles found in the average big-box store. Most styles are made from genuine leather, and many are sewn by hand.
Shopping online makes it easier to find the specific models that are made in the United States. For instance, at online shoe retailers like Zappos and Shoebuy, you can search on “Made in USA” and pull up all the store’s American-made shoes on a single page. However, buying shoes online doesn’t allow you to try them on first, so it’s best to shop stores that offer free returns.
You can also check stores for specific, American-made brands, such as:
- New Balance. Athletic shoemaker New Balance produces more than four million pairs of shoes in the U.S. each year. However, the company admits that these make up only “a limited portion” of its offerings, so you have to check the label to make sure the specific pair you’re trying on is American-made. You can also check the brand’s website before you shop to find out which specific models are made in America. Even then, however, you’re not guaranteed a 100% American-made shoe, since New Balance labels its shoes as “Made in the USA” if their “domestic value” is at least 70% of the shoe’s total price.
- Allen Edmonds. Most of the men’s dress and casual shoes sold by Allen Edmonds are assembled in the company’s Wisconsin factory. However, the company’s blog notes that about 10% of its shoes are made in the Dominican Republic. These shoes are labeled as sub-brands “by Allen Edmonds,” so any shoe that’s stamped “Allen Edmonds” on the heel is made in the States. The brand’s reputation is built on its quality and craftsmanship, and its prices reflect that, with dress shoes starting at $250 a pair.
- Chippewa Boots. Chippewa Boots offers high-end leather boots handcrafted in the U.S. Its boots come in a range of styles, including cowboy boots, riding boots, motorcycle boots, work boots, and walking shoes, with styles for both men and women. Prices range from $205 to $440 a pair.
- Red Wing Shoes. Red Wing Shoes offers a range of sturdy leather boots and shoes for both men and women. Of the 267 styles it offers, 67 are made entirely in the United States, another 47 are made in the U.S. with imported materials, and 7 are assembled in the U.S. using imported components. Prices for the American-made styles start at around $175, and many styles are custom-made. The brand also offers an even pricier “Heritage” line, which is entirely handmade from U.S.-tanned leathers.
- Kepner Scott. Children’s shoes from Kepner Scott are made by hand in Origsburg, Pennsylvania. The company makes shoes for boys, girls, and infants, in sizes up to an adult size 3, including casual shoes, dress shoes, and sandals. They are sold in stores under the trade names Amilio, Carpenter, Sandals by Carpenter and Self Starters. And, with many models priced between $20 and $40, they’re actually comparable in price to department-store shoes.
Although this article covers many of the biggest categories, it only scratches the surface of all the things it’s possible to shop for. If you’re looking for other types of products made in the U.S., you can check out AmericansWorking.com, which covers everything from pet products to musical instruments. However, some of the links on this site are out of date, so use a search engine to double-check and make sure a particular brand is still available.
Another good resource is the USA Love List. You can browse the complete list of American-made brands, search for items made in your home state, or click on “articles” to search for products in a particular category, such as toys or household goods. The site also has a special “deals” section to help you find sales or coupons for American-made products.
It probably isn’t possible for everything you buy to be made in the United States. Some types of goods are harder to find than others, and sometimes you simply have to make cost and quality your top priorities. But in other cases, when it comes to a choice between two products that are very evenly matched in most ways, choosing the one that’s made in the U.S. is one small way for you to support American workers and help our economy grow stronger.
Do you prefer to buy products made in the United States?