May 13, 2015 - 12:15pm

The Importance of Imports

Senior Vice President for International Policy

As Washington debates the most ambitious trade agenda in years — including renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and new trade pacts spanning the Pacific and the Atlantic — there’s been a great deal of talk about exports. This makes a lot of sense: After all, exports provide a big boost to the U.S. economy, and they’ve risen by more than 50% over the past five years.

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 this week as the fourth 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.

More than 17 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for work, so creating new jobs is arguably our nation’s top priority.

It turns out that millions of American jobs depend on imports. According to a 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. 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. Approximately 18 million Americans are employed in business services such as software, architectural services, engineering services and insurance. Wages in these sectors are 20% higher on average than those in manufacturing. 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 second car 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 pay above average wages, including those in business services, transportation and warehousing, and construction.

In short, there are lots of American jobs behind imports.

About the Author

About the Author

Senior Vice President for International Policy

Murphy directs the U.S. Chamber’s advocacy relating to international trade and investment policy.