The Sad State Of American Manufacturing

Maybe it’s not slave labor in the traditional 19th Century America sense, but it’s the 21st Century equivalent.

There was a long article in Sunday’s New York Times, “How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work.” It’s pretty sad because it’s really about manufacturing in general and our inability to compete in the world market.

Since the story was published I’ve seen some references to the ability of foreign companies to be flexible–turn on a dime to fit changing production needs–as the story’s takeaway.

“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”

Red herring! Aggregating vendors around a production center could happen if American manufacturers wanted it. Unfortunately few really want to manufacture here.

Here’s why we’re losing business. Americans aren’t willing to set our way of life back 100 years. Take this story of Apple’s production change for iPhone glass screens:

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

Americans don’t want to compete if competing means living in dorms, eight strangers to a room while making pennies an hour! Maybe it’s not slave labor in the traditional 19th Century America sense, but it’s the 21st Century equivalent.

We (and by we I include me) encourage this race to the bottom by buying totally on price. I am morally disturbed every time I think of it, but I have no idea what to do.

I make the situation worse with each piece of Chinese produced electronics I buy. Without the Chinese today there is nothing.

How sad.

10 thoughts on “The Sad State Of American Manufacturing”

  1. We have a cribbage board that says: “United States Playing Card Co.” Made in Taiwan.
    I think you would be surprised at how many Americans would be thrilled about getting back to work. It certainly would boost the economy!

  2. I do try to look for american made whenever possible. I just finished remodeling the dining and living rooms and all the tools I bought, , and most of the supplies were american made. If more people looked and acted this way it would eventually make a difference. Ever watch ABC News’ “Made in America”? It does work. Take the time to look. A dollar more here or there might just save a neighbor’s job. My 2¢

  3. you can’t really blame Apple for this… I don’t think you are BTW. as you stated if you wanted electronics today there is a 99% chance its made in China. Sad you bet it is. At least Apple does staff most of its call centers here in the USA unlike HP, Dell, and whom ever else.

    Who is to blame — don’t know don’t really care to be honest.

    How do you fix it? I dunno either, maybe start treating the USA as a true competitor to the foreign countries who has “borrowed” our workforce. I know many say this will sound like a socialist scheme but our government needs to truly make “American” Companies completive with our trade partners. Build factories that can scale on demand and quickly retool. I can name one American company that has already started this endeavor. It’s Ford and how they will build multiple car lines in the same factory and lines as needed ( a first I think for any car manufacturer anywhere). OK soap box mode off 🙂

  4. Geoff: I now go out of my way to look for the “Made in America” label. I tweet about it, I talk about it on FB and I’m getting replies indicating that others are now on the same page as me. I write to companies telling them that I won’t buy stuff not made here. I mention it in stores. I look for American companies online to make my purchases. Sometimes I just go without because I don’t want to purchase items not made here. If more of us did the same thing, perhaps companies would start to take notice. Sometimes I have to buy something foreign made but I make sure it’s not from China!

  5. Geoff – You should come on down to Chester CT. see what made in America looks like. It still does exist. We make the lightbars that are on police cars Fire trucks, ambulances. It’s all built in Chster and our other factory in NH. All built here by Americans for Americans and the world. Our main competitors build all thier products overseas and sell it here. Drop me an email and maybe you could come over and check out how it still can and is happening here in CT. Jim

  6. I’m a member of the baby boomer generation. My parents and grandparents got their first jobs working at the factory in their villages. My brothers and I also got our first jobs in local factories, and while we didn’t get rich we were able to live comfortably. All of those factories are shuttered, and the best my 20+ sons are minimum wage jobs at places like Wal-Mart’s.

  7. Then there is the Environmental Laws that prevent toxic chemicals from leeching into our aquafers around the country, and into our rivers and streams. No where else in the world cares for our natural resources like the USA does. Cheap labor, no enviro protection/enforcement, and greed is the standard by which big companies operate. Hey, if you owned a company, and it cost you pennies to make a product, and you sold said product for a 600% increase in the USA, wouldn’t you do it?? Next time you buy a bag of wood screws at a hardware store for 4 dollars, just think what the real cost to produce that screw is. It will make you sick.

  8. As a “mom and pop” (should say great-grandma and pop) small business owners we are very proud of our Made In America Gutter Clutter Buster Kit which vacuums out rain gutters while the user stays safe on the ground. It is handcrafted by our fabricator here in Florida. Even our shipping boxes and labels are Made In USA.
    Three years ago, we had to decide if we wanted a “lead-free” quality product made here at home or outsource to China and receive a 70% higher profit. Once able to find a manufacturer of our Invention who could fabricate it from materials Made In USA, it became obvious that our goal was to provide jobs here at home and said “No” to Made In China!!!
    Today, three years later, I am convinced, as are our valued customers, that we made the right decision and I can go to sleep at night knowing that perhaps we have saved one more person from injuring themselves while cleaning out their rain gutters and also be able to donate $1 from each sale to the local Our Daily Bread of Bradenton to help feed some hungry child in the USA. Its a “win-win” when we Buy American!
    Oh and by the way, my truck is Made In America as well…lol..

  9. This is very true! You have to hunt in order to find anything made in America! We found American made appliances at Sears and have American made automobiles, but that is it! Everything else is from a sweat shop in Asia.

  10. have to look very close alot of times made in america means assembled here, alot of automobiles are made with parts from mexico and other places and just put together here, i have been through assembly plants where cars are put together and all you see is boxes from mexico

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