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

Spending this fall for students K-12 is expected to drop 12%, 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 [compared to] $907.22 last year.

[I]t 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. [I]n another BTS warning about the economy, 47.7% of college students expect to live at home [in 2013], up from 42.9% 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 [in] five public schools is classified as “high poverty” […] by the U.S. Department of Education. To be classified as [a] high-poverty [school], 75% of [its] elementary, middle or high school students must qualify for […] free or reduced-price [lunches].

Moyers & Co. reports that […] poverty affects 46.2 million people [in the United States], [including] 16.1 million children. […] Deep poverty, [or a household income below] $11,510 [annually] for a family of four, hits 20.4 million people, [or] one 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 […] only 48% of poor children are ready for school by the age of five, compared to 75% of children from moderate- and high-income families.

[W]e have parents who are going to be spending less on their children for BTS, [a]nd 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—staples like backpacks, school supplies and clothes. Fox News reported [that] in St. Louis, the National Council of Jewish Women brought a “[b]ack-to-[s]chool store” to 1,200 children in need. […] The Broomfield Enterprise in Colorado reports the organization Crayons to Calculators hopes to provide 9,000 students with new backpacks full of supplies [in 2013]. The City Wire in Arkansas reports on [a] “Stuff the Bus” campaign supported by the United Way, where bright yellow buses will be scattered throughout Fort Smith to collect school supplies for children in need [for] the ninth year. We can all help online at Operation Backpack, where they are gathering backpacks for New York City children in need. […]

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 schoolchildren 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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