If you're looking to buy something produced by American jobs this holiday season, it may be more complicated than you remember.

In previous recessions, media campaigns pushed Americans to choose products branded "Made in the U.S.A." or to "Look for the Union Label." But this time around there's been little effort to guide Americans toward domestically produced items.

That may be partly because American consumers now have scant interest in country of origin when deciding which car, television or gadget to buy. Domestically produced toys became hot items in 2007, after a potentially lethal Thomas the Tank Engine and several other Chinese imports were recalled for lead paint, but that had more to do with safety than patriotism.

"Most American consumers are among the least nationalistic in the world," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution. "They're more interested in price and reliability."

And in a lot of shopping categories, it's often close to impossible to find an American alternative. Famously, even during the wildly successful Cash for Clunkers program this summer, only four out of 10 new cars purchased came from the Big Three American automakers.

Thanks to globalization, it is also now harder to truly determine what qualifies as "Made in the U.S.A." in the first place. Many companies, like Apple and Nike, contribute to the American workforce in research, development and marketing, but manufacture their actual goods overseas. Foreign firms often produce their products in the United States, even as domestic producers use parts shipped from elsewhere. Again, those Cash for Clunkers best sellers provide a useful case study: The top three new cars purchased under the program -- the Toyota Corolla, the Honda Civic and the Toyota Camry -- are all produced in the United States, but by overseas automakers, as The Wall Street Journal has noted.

"A lot of the preeminent producers in the United States are companies owned by foreigners," Burtless said. "I mean, how many people know the domestic percentage of the car they're driving?"

The Federal Trade Commission mandates that only products that are "all or virtually all" produced domestically can use the "Made in the U.S.A." label, and has gone after companies like toolmaker Stanley for saying so erroneously. But it doesn't keep records on how many products use the label on their advertising, an FTC spokesman said.

Government programs that push consumers to buy American products also risk violating free-trade agreements and angering allies. That became a hot debate in February, when the federal stimulus legislation included a "Buy American" provision that requires public works projects to use American-manufactured goods. Union leaders said it would help create jobs, a goal of the stimulus; industry groups argued it could backfire and slow economic growth. The measure was softened in the final bill, but still garnered criticism from China and Canada, among others.

"If our goal is to create good-paying jobs at home by selling American-made goods and services overseas -- where 95 percent of the world's consumers live -- then 'Buy American' requirements don't make sense," Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said at the time. "If we refuse to buy foreign-made goods, then our trading partners will refuse to buy from us. And since we are the world's largest exporter, who will be hurt more?"

Roger Simmermaker has been encouraging people to buy American products for more than 15 years, through his book, "How Americans Can Buy American." He said he often urges shoppers to bypass the big-box stores and look for smaller retailers who, he said, "are supporting America because it's something they believe in."

"People need to look in the stores and look for the 'Made in the U.S.A.' label," Simmermaker said. "People will pick up products all day long to make sure it's not made in China, but I don't hear them looking for 'Made in the U.S.A.'"