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Back to School: It’s Make It or Break It Time for the Economy

by Marc Joseph (reprinted from August 1, 2013 Huffington Post)

Marc Joseph Dollar DaysSpending this fall for students K-12 is expected to drop 12 percent, according to a National Retail Federation survey reported in the Wall Street Journal. The average that will be spent on each kid is $634.78, down from $688.62 in 2012. Even those going to college are expecting decreases from $836.80 this year, down from $907.22 last year. So it looks like the payroll tax hike, the sequestration and the continued sluggish job market are finally going to rear their ugly heads during the first major sales season of the year. This is troublesome news for retailers because the back to school (BTS) season is like the canary in the coal mine; BTS sales trends historically predict how the holiday fourth quarter sales will turn out. And in another BTS warning about the economy, 47.7 percent of college students expect to live at home, up from 42.9 percent in 2012.

These depressing numbers tell us that the American family has begun to focus on the needs of their children for BTS rather than the wants of their kids. If working Americans are having trouble getting their kids ready for BTS, what about the children in families stuck in poverty or not working at all? According to The Hechinger Report, poverty is getting so concentrated in America that one out of five public schools is classified as a “high poverty” school by the US Department of Education. To be classified as high poverty, 75 percent of an elementary, middle or high school students must qualify for a free or reduced price lunch.

Moyers & Co. reports that U.S. poverty (fewer than $17,916 for a family of 3) affects 46.2 million people, up 15.1 percent. The 16.1 million children in poverty are 22% of all children, including 39 percent of African-American and 34 percent of Latino kids. Deep poverty (fewer than $11,510 for a family of 4) hits 20.4 million people, which represents 1 in 15 Americans. On top of all this, we have 1,065,794 homeless students enrolled in U.S. preschools and K-12 schools and we know that only 48 percent of poor children are ready for school by the age of 5, compared to 75 percent of children from moderate and high income families.

So we have parents who are going to be spending less on their children for BTS. And we have poverty creating a major burden for schools to figure out how to deal with accommodating these kids’ needs. This is a bleak time for not only our economy, but to the answer of how we cope with an all-inclusive society so that no child is left behind.

Some organizations are rising to the occasion with drives to provide the underprivileged with what they need to go back to school with dignity with staples like backpacks, school supplies and clothes. Fox News reported in St. Louis that the National Council of Jewish Women brought a Back to School store to 1,200 children in need where they could just pick out what they needed for school. The Broomfield Enterprise in Colorado reports the organization “Crayons to Calculators” hopes to provide 9,000 students with new backpacks full of supplies. The City Wire in Arkansas reports on the “Stuff the Bus” campaign supported by the United Way where bright yellow buses will be scattered throughout Fort Smith, AR to collect school supplies for children in need. This is the ninth year of Stuff the Bus. We can all help online at Operation Backpack, where they are gathering backpacks for the New York City children in need (collected 13,500 in 2012). At DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away $2,500 in products to a back to school drive that is nominated, so submit your favorite.

We have been putting up with this recession since late 2007. It has been close to six years where the poor are getting poorer, the needy are getting needier and now it looks like our school children will be getting less. Spending less for BTS is a major blow to our economy and when word of this decrease becomes widespread, it will be a major blow to the American psyche. As Americans, we have to do what we can do to ensure the long-term survival of our educational system, because all these kids, rich and poor, are our future. Dig deep into your pockets and help out your local backpack drive by donating backpacks, school supplies or cash so they can buy what is needed for the underprivileged. If you are a parent or grandparent, spend a little more on your kids for BTS so we can prove the predictions wrong. If this BTS season is truly less than last year, then we are in for a long, cold fall and winter retail season which will keep us in this recession for another year.

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