Imports Support 21 Million Jobs — What This Means for the Shoe Industry

With millions of Americans relying on imports for jobs, new trade policy initiatives could have critical repercussions on the United States economy — and even the footwear industry.

Today, nine organizations — including the National Retail Federation, American Apparel and Footwear Association and the Retail Industry Leaders Association — released an economic impact study, which found that imports support more than 21 million American jobs. It also looked at several measures either recently or currently before Congress — such as the renewal of the long-discussed Generalized System of Preferences, which eliminates U.S. import tariffs on qualifying products, and the passage of the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill — that can affect the role imports play for U.S. businesses, workers and consumers.

According to Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America president and CEO Matt Priest, the benefits of imports can be both direct and indirect — particularly for the U.S. shoe industry, where about 99% of retail demand for shoes is satisfied by products and materials sourced from other countries.

“On the consumer side, over the long term, retail prices for footwear are strongly influenced by average landed costs of footwear,” he said. “So efforts to source low-cost footwear overseas helps contain retail footwear prices and keep money in the pockets of hard-working families.”

In the case of employment, on the other hand, Priest added, “With almost all footwear sold at retail sourced abroad, the vast majority of workers directly or indirectly associated with the footwear industry — hundreds of thousands of workers — owe their livelihoods to imports.”

As reported in the study, imports from key U.S. trading partners have a net positive impact on employment: Imports from the European Union and the United Kingdom support the most net jobs in the U.S. — about 8.6 million, or 40% of the total — while China, Japan and Korea hold up 3.1%, 4.4% and 4.2%, respectively. Among these workers, nearly 8 million of the jobs related to importing are held by minorities and 2.5 million jobs are held by union-represented workers.

What’s more, imports enable consumers to choose from a wider variety of goods — and, according to experts, keep the costs of those products affordable.

AAFA’s SVP of policy, Nate Herman, added, “Imports are also key to the U.S. global value chain, directly employing millions of American workers in product development, sourcing and compliance that turn those designs into product; the transportation and logistics managers, warehouse workers, the truckers who ensure that product makes it to market; and the merchandisers and salespeople who get that product sold.”

Access exclusive content