The warning signs are clear: without intervention and investment, the American manufacturing industry is in danger of extinction.
The United States used to be a country that made things: for over a hundred years, our economy was driven by the production of high-quality goods by American workers in American factories. And as Arianna Huffington has often commented, we are now a country that makes things up: speculation in collateralized debt obligations and mortgage-backed securities nearly led to the collapse of our economy in 2008.
In Northeastern Ohio's Mahoning Valley, where we were raised, the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the '70s and '80s dealt a devastating blow to the region -- a setback from which we have begun to recover only recently and through painstaking effort. The plight of New York City's Garment District follows an all-too familiar and unfortunate trajectory that we are determined to reverse.
This week, we joined over 1,000 individuals at a rally in the heart of the Garment District to address growing concerns regarding the outsourcing of American jobs. The New York fashion industry employs 175,000 people -- over 24,000 in apparel manufacturing alone -- but these numbers have been slipping for decades. A microcosm of other domestic manufacturing industries, New York's fashion industry has seen many apparel manufacturers shut their doors as subsidized foreign goods and rising costs drove them out of business as production shifted offshore.
No longer a center of mass production, the Garment District is an economic cluster that links designers, suppliers, distributors and associated service providers - serving as an incubator for innovation that originates the ideas, styles and trends that will launch the next Ralph Lauren or Nanette Lepore. Nearly 850 fashion companies are headquartered in New York City (more than Paris, Milan, and London combined), and hundreds of small businesses -- from pattern makers and fabric cutters to button and trim suppliers -- support the designers that keep the American fashion industry dominant on a world stage.
Manufacturing's influence on the health of the American economy cannot be understated. If we are to retain our status as a world power, we must focus on the creation of sustainable manufacturing jobs that will support a strong middle-class. Whether we're talking about the production of steel or clothing, for every manufacturing job that is created in this country, up to six spin-off jobs are generated through supply and distribution chains. Manufacturing jobs pay a higher wage than service jobs, and create a significant amount of the patents that keep America's economy on the cutting edge of innovation.
If we allow these jobs to be outsourced, we take the engine out of the American economy. Economic prosperity is directly tied to our capacity to innovate, and innovation is directly tied to our ability to manufacture superior goods.
An important part of the solution is to ensure that our nation stands up for its own workers by enforcing trade laws that are meant to create a level playing field for American manufacturers. The first place that Congress and this Administration can start is by standing up to China's unfair and illegal intervention in currency markets. China's continued manipulation of its currency amounts to a de facto subsidy of up to 40 percent on all imports that arrive in the American market. This flagrant violation of international trade law undermines our middle class - stripping jobs from both the steel industry in Youngstown and the fashion industry in New York City. Thankfully, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 2378, the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, in September. If the Senate will take up H.R. 2378 when Congress returns to session in November, we can send this bill to the President for his signature and help to retain hundreds of thousands of sustainable American manufacturing jobs.
With the right federal, state and local policies, we believe that the American manufacturing industry can be renewed and improved. By promoting a comprehensive economic strategy, we can even bring back some of the jobs that have been lost. As the federal government continues to level the playing field and ease costs of production, corporate interests should commit to returning a portion of outsourced jobs back to the United States. And together we can educate consumers to make a conscious choice to purchase American-made goods -- providing opportunity for our young, creative entrepreneurs and good paying jobs for our citizens, whether they live in the Big Apple or the Buckeye State.
U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan was born in Niles, Ohio and represents the 17th Congressional District in Northeastern Ohio. Nanette Lepore was born in Youngstown, Ohio and is a well-known fashion designer based in New York City.
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