It’s one thing to know that nearly 87 percent of toys imported by the United States come from China and another to see what that looks like in your child’s closet.
I did a quick scan of toy labels around my house the other day. Every plastic toy was made in China, but so were more-expensive, high-quality toys such as Lincoln Logs, Tinkertoys and wooden puzzles.
Among the few made-in-the-USA toys I could find were inexpensive cardboard-and-plastic board games, including my 3-year-old’s favorite, Candy Land, and a dollar-store Dora the Explorer puzzle in a flimsy box.
Soon, most of these toys will cost more. Spurred by safety concerns about toys imported from China, American toy makers are expected to raise prices by up to 10 percent next year.
This should come as no surprise, since someone has to pay for the testing procedures these companies are scrambling to implement in the wake of recent toy recalls, and why should the CEOs begin cutting into their own profits now? That would defeat the purpose of outsourcing production in the first place.
During a Sept. 12 congressional hearing on toy safety standards, the CEO of Mattel Inc. admitted the company could have done a better job supervising the Chinese subcontractors responsible for 21 million recalled toys.
Meanwhile, China signed an agreement prohibiting the use of lead paint on toys exported to the United States.
So, the made-in-China toys will get safer, and people will grumble a little about paying more, but they’ll still buy the toys, and the CEOs will keep getting richer. My hope is that somewhere along the way, concerns about toy safety will raise awareness about the consequences of becoming a nation of consumers rather than producers.
The global economy is supposed to be good for the average American. The lower the price Wal-Mart is able to negotiate for production of its toys, the lower the price paid by the consumer, or so the theory goes.
But, if new quality-assurance procedures are going to jack up the cost of toys, the gap narrows, and I have to wonder how much we are actually saving. Wouldn’t it be better for our children, our environment and our economy if we just made more of the toys here?
It seems to me that the only people really benefiting are the Chinese, who now have the world’s fastest-growing economy, and the CEOs of the American companies that are making it happen.
Sure, people in low-wage jobs might not be able to afford to buy the things they need if there weren’t a Wal-Mart nearby. But if the reason they’re making minimum wage is because the higher-paying manufacturing jobs were outsourced to China, what has really been accomplished?
Middle-class families are not really benefiting, either. They’ve got access to more cheap stuff than ever before, but rates of saving are down, and mortgage foreclosures and credit-card debt are up. Instead of strengthening the financial health of the average American family, the global economy has transformed us into a nation of spenders.
So, what’s a concerned consumer to do? Pledging to buy only U.S.-made toys would be impractical. (Plus, my kids would disown me if they were banned from buying Webkinz stuffed animals or plastic tiaras and high heels.)
I could order gifts from websites such as Massachusetts-based U.S. Made Toys, which offers a limited selection of blocks, puzzles, games and other toys, but then I wouldn’t be able to support locally owned businesses, and that’s important to me, too.
It would be nice to think that the soccer moms of America could start a revolution if we just started paying as close attention to toy labels as we do food labels. But even if we all vowed to buy two made-in-USA toys for every one toy made in China, demand would quickly outpace supply.
And then what? Would the toy conglomerates respond by bringing their production plants back home? Somehow, I doubt it would be that simple.
For now, all I can do is read labels, shop carefully _ and appreciate Candy Land a little bit more.
Lisa Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.