Trade is a Two-Way Street (or, Imports are Important, Too!)

May 6, 2013

In his State of the Union address three years ago, President Obama set the goal of doubling U.S. exports within five years. This goal makes a lot of sense: Americans need growth and jobs, but cash-strapped consumers, regulation-burdened businesses, and a deficit-ridden government lack the resources to kick-start vigorous growth. Against that backdrop, exports have proven to be a boon to the U.S. economy.

But exports are just half of the trade equation. That’s why the U.S. Chamber has joined with other business groups and think tanks to mark May 6-10 as the second annual “Imports Work for America” week.

Increasing exports is vital, but this is a great chance to remind ourselves that imports are also important to American jobs, prosperity, and competitiveness, not to mention global development.

Today, we’re focusing on jobs. With nearly 12 million Americans out of work, creating new jobs is arguably our nation’s top priority.

It turns out that millions of American jobs depend on imports. According to a new study commissioned by the Chamber and several other business groups, entitled Imports Work for America, imports support more than 16 million American jobs.

Most of these jobs are in services. It’s easy to see how the act of importing supports jobs in transportation, warehousing, and logistics as goods are unloaded at ports and make their way to manufacturers, farmers, and consumers. Delivering imported goods to customers also supports employment in finance and insurance.

Other import-related jobs are found in business services such as advertising, law, and computer services. Finally, retailers -- which employ more Americans than any other sector -- sell many imported consumer goods to American families.

Less obvious is the way imports support employment indirectly. When consumers save money by purchasing lower-cost imports -- or even when they buy a domestically produced good in a market made more competitive by imports -- they have more to spend on other goods and services. In this way, imports can help underwrite a family vacation, child care, or a motorcycle and provide employment to the Americans providing those goods and services.

A large number of these import-related jobs are unionized, and many are held by minorities and women. These jobs often pay well: Many of the jobs described pay above average wages, including those in business services, transportation and warehousing, and construction.

In short, there are lots of American jobs behind imports. Tomorrow we’ll see why imports are important to American families… 

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