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Are you really buying products 'Made in the USA?'

Are the American-made goods you buy really "made in the USA?"

A new survey shows 80 percent of shoppers would pay more for American-made goods, but be careful. What you think is a home-grown product might not be. Consumer Reports recently looked into the questionable origins of some of the products labelled "Made in the USA." Shopping expert Tod Marks is a senior project editor with Consumer Reports.

What reasons do 80 percent of the country give for wanting to buy American-made goods?

"Their primary reason for wanting to buy American-made goods -- even more so than creating jobs or keeping the economy chugging along -- because there's a very strong perception that American companies treat their workers better and that there's more of a social conscience, giving back to the community, less likely to employ questionable practices such as child labor," says Marks.

But are people willing to put their money where their mouths are? Will they really pay more for American-made products?

"Absolutely," says Marks. "Sixty percent of all the respondents [in the survey] indicate that they buy American-made clothes and appliances, even if they cost 10 percent more than the imported version."

Marks says the problem is that, in many instances, there just aren't that many American-made goods being made in certain categories.  Often, the option to buy American isn't there when it comes to things like clothes and personal electronics.

"When you see a product that's labeled 'Made in the USA,' you can be assured that that product is either all or virtually all made here. It's the gold standard of all label claims. There's no ambiguity. That's what they call an unqualified claim. There are what they call qualified claims that kind of suggest what Apple does. They are very big into this. For example, their new iPod mini says designed by Apple in California, but assembled in China. That's kind of sending a mixed message. So there is a lot of ambiguity," says Marks.

Marks says people should be careful when they see labels that use American flags or an eagle in flight and other patriotic symbols because they are used willy-nilly on products made far from U.S. shores. He also warns about labels that use phrases like "true American quality" and "American heritage" -- which may not really mean anything.

"The Federal Trade Commission, what they say is they look at everything on a case-by-case basis to see what the overall message is. Symbols and words aren't enough to constitute a violation as long as somewhere in a conspicuous manner is the actual story. For example, you can use a flag as long as you see somewhere in a prominent place the item says, say, 'made in Vietnam,'" says Marks. "But a lot of people don't go beyond the symbols or the words, so they jump to conclusions."

Bottom line, if consumers are serious about buying American-made goods, they should look for the words: "Made in the USA."

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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