Americans may be worrying about layoffs and a second recession, but it’s made them only moderately less openhanded in back-to-school spending, which has quietly assumed the status of a major economic barometer and event.
Retailers say parents are more inclined to shop sales, make do with last year’s clothes and supplies; more than 40 percent say they’ll spend less than last year. At least, that’s what they’re telling pollsters.
It’s not your imagination: The back-to-school sales really are starting earlier each summer. Retailers say it’s because consumers are demanding. The more cynical think the stores want to grab back-to-school shoppers before they’re tapped out.
Here’s another reason for early shopping, at least this year. The Associated Press reports: “Retailers are raising prices on merchandise an average of 10 percent across-the-board this fall in an effort to offset their rising costs for materials and labor.”
When it’s all over, the National Retail Federation estimates that the combined spending on kindergarten through high school and college will total $68.8 billion, well above pre-recession levels. The NRF says that makes it “the second-biggest consumer-spending event for retailers behind the winter holidays.”
Families with children K-12 will spend an average of $603.63 to equip their little scholars with school supplies, clothes, shoes and the like, only a few bucks below last year’s average of $606.40.
There is a significant decline in one category that has been among back-to-school’s fastest-growing – electronics. The federation says college students and their families will spend an average of $236.94 on computers, cellphones, MP3 players and other devices. That’s down from last year’s $266.08, a record high.
The federation has an interesting explanation for this: “This year’s sixth-graders were born in 2000; there’s no piece of technology today’s students don’t know about, haven’t used or don’t already own.” And they no longer regard technology purchases as seasonal – say, right before the start of school. They buy these devices as new ones are introduced and they can afford them.
Bad economic times or not, American parents are still willing to spend on their children’s education, even if they have to strain the family budget. The kids can reciprocate by studying hard in school this year.