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Can you buy All-American this Christmas?

Antonio Young
The Daily Journal

December 21, 2008

With Christmas just four days away, retail stores are likely being flooded by last-minute shoppers.

And chances are, as you scramble for the perfect toy for your kids or grandkids, you're probably not glancing at labels to see where the products were manufactured.

But paying attention to the label is important. In fact, staying true to America while shopping this Christmas -- and beyond -- could help the country weather its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

"It's very important to buy American because then we're paying for our workers and production, which means we can hire more people," said Ralph Rumble, a business instructor at Kankakee Community College.

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend more than $470 billion this holiday season.

The group is unsure what percentage of that figure is being spent on toys. But we do know that 80 percent of all toys sold in the United States are imported from China, according to the Toy Industry Association.

Only about 10 percent of the toys are made in America, with the remaining 10 percent being manufactured in countries such as India and in Europe.

The struggle

One-tenth of all U.S. jobs are in manufacturing, reports the Economic Policy Institute. The United States has lost nearly 700,000 manufacturing jobs since the official start of the current recession in December 2007, including 80,000 jobs last month, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

For some, buying American is "a two-edged sword," Rumble said, because foreign goods tend to be cheaper.

Still, according to one author, consumers would pay more.

In his 2008 book, "How Americans Can Buy American: The Power of Consumer Patriotism," Roger Simmermaker reports a 2007 study showing that 33 percent of Americans say they would be willing to pay four times as much for American-made toys.

In an effort to entice these consumers, some toy manufacturers have begun placing "Made in the USA" stickers on packaging, wrote Julie Tilsner, a contributing writer for Parenting and American Baby magazines, in an article on bloggingstocks.com.

Retailers such as Toys 'R' Us have instructed salesclerks to help parents find a toy's country of origin this holiday season, though it's not being practiced locally, said Laura McWillis, manager for the Toys 'R' Us store in Matteson.

Get the lead out

But some Americans might prefer to buy domestic toys for another reason: Lead.

JustGreen Partnership -- a New York-based coalition of children's safety, public health and environmental groups -- recently found that a third of this season's popular toys have significant levels of toxic chemicals.

It includes High School Musical crown necklaces and heart earrings, and Leapfrog's Leapster 2 handheld game, both of which contain high levels of lead and arsenic.

Bobbi Chase Wilding, organizing director for Clean New York, a member of JustGreen Partnership, said parents should know that a "Made in USA" label doesn't guarantee safety. Lead has also been found in domestic toys as well.

"I certainly think people should buy products from the United States," she said. "But it's also important for American companies to step up, and really lead the way in making sure the products that they are putting out" are safe.

In August, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, a law that takes effect in February and bans lead and phthalate (substances added to plastics to increase a toy's flexibility) in toys.

The federal law also mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys.

Gift of quality time

Instead of stressing over a toy's country of origin, Josh Golin, associate director for the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said parents should try to give alternative Christmas gifts.

A mock certificate for an activity such as camping or fishing with Mom or Dad, or donating money to the child's favorite charity, are some examples, Golin said.

But if parents must buy toys, Golin said they should support toy manufacturers that "aren't flooding the TV or the Internet with ads, but respect parents' authorities as gatekeepers."

He said those typically are the smaller, more local toy companies. Hence, American.

Scott Krugmant, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation, believes a toy's price -- versus its place of origin -- will matter most to shoppers this holiday season.

Said Krugman, "Given consumers are on pretty tight budgets right now, I don't know if they're asking that question as much this year."

 

 

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