Part One: The True Cost of Foreign-Made Jeans

From U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

New unemployment insurance claims in January, 2011 (in a single month): 246,463

Total manufacturing jobs lost in January, 2011 (in a single month): 75,006

Total textile mills jobs lost in January, 2011 (in a single month): 4,455

Quote: "January had 1,534 mass layoffs involving 149,799 workers, slightly higher than January, 2010."

Linking to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, I hesitate. Don't I need a special credential to enter this highfaluting slice of cyberspace? At minimum, proof of a two-year stint in J-School (as the folks with grad-level journalism degrees call it)? Can a middling busybody like me visit? Won't an alarm go off? Warning: This person knows nothing about economics. Entry denied.

Maybe econ-amateurs who watch American Idol and actually care how Steven Tyler and J. Lo are doing (good, I think) shouldn't mess around with government statistics. I mean, this is the Big Kahuna. The go-to place for reporters charged with unlocking the mystery known as "unemployment statistics." In other news, the latest unemployment figures showed a slight improvement over the same month last year, although jobless claims remain high. We at home think: Wow, how'd that reporter figure that out? And then we think: Wonder what J. Lo's hair will look like tonight on Idol?

But now that I've visited the website, I'm here to say: Every taxpaying American citizen needs to hang out there. We need to see what's happening to employment opportunities in this country. Surely there's room in our lives for American Idol and the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. No? Ok. I'll do the looking for you. Which reminds me, I haven't bought any Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips in a while. And I could use a nice big bag o' chocolate, pronto, because the news out there in manufacturing land is grim. A handful of Guittard chocolate chips might help.

Which also reminds me: This one-year (soon-to-be 10-month) journey is about seeking, finding, and buying American products as I go about my ordinary, daily life. A consumer-driven memoir, if you will. As such, please be assured I do not accept product freebies. They've been offered, which is appreciated. But accepting products would compromise what I'm trying to do here. This is an advertiser-free zone. A place to think about where our products come from; to see where I'm headed each day as I look for them and, in a larger sense, see where we're headed as a country. Readers do plug their US-made products via the comments feature; that's fine. If I mention a product, it's because I've found it or heard about it and it sounds good. But I am not being reimbursed for doing so.

Now, getting back to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics information (released today) shown at the top of this post. The BLS statistics show what's happening to manufacturing in this country. It's going, going, almost gone. My guess is that those 75,006 manufacturing jobs lost in the United States of America in month of January will not be returning. They've likely already flown the coop, snatched up by cheap foreign labor in faraway places.

Complicated factors send those jobs Anywhere But Here: Our country's exceedingly high corporate tax code, for one. In between American Idol sessions, I've been trying to wrap my brain around "repatriation" tax issues faced by American corporations. I'll discuss that further, soon. Then there's the high cost of labor and union-driven benefits. I'll debate those issues, too, as the year goes on. Suffice it to say everyone wants workers treated fairly; but wouldn't workers rather have jobs with less pay and benefits than no job at all? Maybe not. Perhaps I'll hear from union people about that. Hope so. Then there's the high cost of covering one's corporate rear end via Workman's Comp and Disability Insurance. And the legal costs of doing business here. Costs and costs and costs. All of which are much less Anywhere But Here. All of which leave us, the American consumers, smack dab in the middle of a conundrum. We want inexpensive clothes and reasonably priced electronics, but we also want a robust economy. Are the two incompatible? And, looking at the jobless numbers, what's the true cost of those Made in China/Malaysia/Mexico/Lesotho/Philippines/India/Anywhere But Here jeans?

Coming up: My interview All American Clothing co-founder Lawson Nickol.