Imagine competing with an American company that pays its workers less than $1 an hour.

That’s a reality Michael Mansh, president of a small apparel factory in Olive Hill, Ky., faces every day, according to CNNMoney. In February, Mansh reportedly learned that his 100-person factory, Ashland Sales and Service, risked losing a contract to make windbreakers for the U.S. Air Force. The main competitor was Unicor, a government-run enterprise that employs 13,000 inmates at wages as low as 23 cents an hour.

For decades, small U.S. factories have battled for business with government-run operations that outsource labor to Americans behind bars. And the tension is only growing as job creation and the role of government take center stage in Washington.

In the case of Ashland, Olive Hill’s largest employer, losing the Air Force contract would have forced the clothing maker to shut down, Mansh told CNNMoney. "That's 100 people buying groceries. We use trucking companies in the town, buy parts and light bulbs there every day," he said in an interview with the news outlet. "That's all lost when prisons take away contracts."

Lawmakers stepped in and told Unicor to back off and cede the Air Force contract. The corporation obliged, but not without regret; for Unicor, that contract would have created hundreds of jobs for its workers, advancing its mission to “provide job skills training to the greatest practicable number of inmates confined within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.”

That mission hasn’t changed much since the government created Unicor in 1934. Advocates for the program point to the fact that inmates employed by the corporation, who earn between 12 cents and 40 cents per hour, are less likely to reoffend after being released.

But critics accuse Unicor, which last year pulled in $900 million in revenue, of shifting its focus from the betterment of inmates to profits. Those profits, they allege, have largely come at the expense of small businesses, which are already struggling to secure government work. A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed new rules that would change the way prison manufacturing companies do business, subjecting them to stricter standards that would lead to higher prices.

“Can you imagine the uproar from the public if we were importing goods manufactured by prison labor in someplace like China?” said Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) in a June congressional hearing examining the effect of prison manufacturing on private businesses. "It’s no wonder our American-grown companies have difficulty competing against this goliath, government-owned corporation.”

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  • Cat Headphones

    Sometimes your cat wants to listen to that Katy Perry song without your uninvited judgment. For that, there's Professor Meowington's cat headphones, developed by SOL REPUBLIC. Ad agency Rooster NYC promoted the product with <a href="http://www.fastcompany.com/1844508/headphones-cats-just-one-idea-spur-new-one-stop-viral-video-shop" target="_hplink">a viral marketing campaign</a> featuring a <a href="http://roosternewyork.com/2012/08/02/cat-headphones/" target="_hplink">tongue-in-cheek video</a>. SOL REPUBLIC <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/06/professor-meowingtons-cat-headphones-deadmau5_n_1749049.html" target="_hplink">released a limited run</a> of 10 pairs of hand-painted headphones, <a href="http://www.solrepublic.com/meow" target="_hplink">each retailing for $999</a>. That's some high fidelity for your feline friend.

  • Cat DJ Scratching Deck

    Electronic dance music is everywhere now, so why should your cat feel left out? Created by product designers SUCK UK, <a href="http://www.suck.uk.com/products/catscratch/" target="_hplink">the "Cat Scratch"</a> allows your pet to swipe its claws at a furry turntable, as opposed to your nice couch. Just don't let your cat develop an ego when the mixes of DJ Kitty Meow Meow start topping the charts.

  • Cat-speak Translator

    Japanese children's toy creators <a href="http://www.takaratomy.co.jp/" target="_hplink">Takara Tomy</a> created a translator for cats. Made after the success of the "Bowlingual" for dogs, the $75 "Meowlingual" device attempts to read your cats purrs and cries and translate them into phrases like, "I can't stand it." The Bowlingual was able to read <a href="http://livetvcafe.net/video/X6R47664W52Y/BBC-ONE" target="_hplink">200 phrases or words</a> grouped in six different emotional categories: fun, frustration, menace, sorrow, demand and self-expression. While some may be genuinely curious as to what their cats are thinking, others may say this device is just purrrrr insanity.

  • Pet High Chair

    Why give your pets table food when they can sit at the table with you? Illinois-based retailers Hammacher Schlemmer want to give your cat (or dog) the chance to have prime real estate at the table. The <a href="http://www.hammacher.com/product/78611" target="_hplink">$50 pet high chair</a> is said by Hammacher Schlemmer to provide an alternative for your pet to "sitting on your lap, running disruptively underfoot, or outright banishment" as "the chair assuages a pet (and its owner's) frustration, and promotes more refined behavior." A cat monocle does not come included.

  • Catnip Cigar

    There is a corner of YouTube where users can waste a lot of time watching <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5Xrcp6k8VE" target="_hplink">cats get high off catnip</a>. Clearly, cats have their vices too. <a href="http://www.kittycity.com/catnipcigar.html" target="_hplink">Kitty City offers $3 cigar toys</a> that can be filled with catnip. Combined with a rich brandy, the catnip cigar is another great gift for the high-society cat in your life.

  • Cat Sitter DVD

    For when your cat just wants to kick back and watch a flick, there's the <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Go-Cat-Sitter-DVD/dp/B000F6UOXC" target="_hplink">Cat Sitter DVD</a>, available for $14 on Amazon. The DVD serves as a means to keep hyperactive <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VY8TATEEBUE" target="_hplink">cats focused on the TV</a> or to provide entertainment for them when they're home alone. The DVD's Amazon page features some ecstatic reviews, including one from a cat named Murray in Phoenix: "When my human gets home, I lead her straight to the TV. If only I had thumbs to operate the remote." Mavis in Savannah adds: "I'm positive it'll win this year's prestigious Hairball Award!"

  • Cardboard Vehicles For Cats

    Not content with just giving your cat a DJ kit, SUCK UK also created <a href="http://www.suck.uk.com/products/catplayhouse/" target="_hplink">cardboard vehicles for cats to play in</a>. For $30, your cat can spend some time in an airplane, a tank, a firetruck or the appropriately-named "Catillac." The product's page features a large selection of user-submitted pictures of cats playing in their new vehicles.

  • Cat Ties

    Does your cat have a big interview coming up? Probably not, but you can still help your cat unleash his inner Don Draper with the help of assorted cat ties. A few <a href="http://www.etsy.com/listing/105274486/surf-and-turf-cat-tie" target="_hplink">independent designers</a> offer a slew of <a href="http://www.etsy.com/listing/105687743/pet-dog-cat-collar-accessory-red-necktie" target="_hplink">cat tie designs on their Etsy shops</a>, with prices ranging from $2 to $10. Surely <a href="http://www.quickmeme.com/Business-Cat/" target="_hplink">Business Cat</a> would be proud.

  • Pink Passion Kitty Wigs

    If your cat is looking for a drastic change in hairstyle, <a href="http://www.kittywigs.com" target="_hplink">Kitty Wigs</a> has you covered. The $65 wigs come in <a href="http://kittywigs.com/wigs.html" target="_hplink">four colors</a>, including pink passion (pictured), bashful blonde, electric blue and silver fox. Creators and cat lovers Julie Jackson and Jill Johnson also published "<a href="http://kittywigs.com/book.html" target="_hplink">Glamourpuss: The Enchanting World of Kitty Wigs</a>," a picture book filled with confused cats wearing the wigs.

  • Cat Toilet Training Kit

    Who was really the star of the movie "Meet The Parents"? Robert DeNiro? Ben Stiller? Or Jinx, the <a href="http://www.womansday.com/cm/womansday/images/lu/06-Mr.-Jinx-Meet-the-Parents-famous-pets-from-TV-and-movies-1.jpg" target="_hplink">cat capable of using a regular toilet</a>? A three-step system developed by <a href="http://www.litterkwitter.com/en/index.php" target="_hplink">Litter Kwitter</a> promises it can get your cat off the litter box for good. As a plus, the cat will always be sure to leave the seat down.

  • Cat Hats

    <em>Acting furry, but I don't know why / Excuse me / While I lick my thigh</em> <a href="http://www.etsy.com/shop/ToScarboroughFair?ref=seller_info" target="_hplink">Etsy shop "To Scarborough Fair"</a> has all your cat hat needs covered. From a <a href="http://www.etsy.com/listing/105576913/halloween-pet-hat-jimi-hendrix-hat" target="_hplink">cap inspired by Jimi Hendrix's top hat</a> to a <a href="http://www.etsy.com/listing/30984622/cat-costume-witch-hat-garnet-red-cat" target="_hplink">witch's hat</a> or a <a href="http://www.etsy.com/listing/76856192/cat-beret-wool-felt-pure-merino-wool" target="_hplink">French beret</a>, if you can think of headwear for your cat, chances are it's here.

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