Economic hopes ride on kids’ backpacksThe fate of the economy may rest on those little shoulders sagging under the weight
By: Dale McFeatters, The Dickinson Press
The fate of the economy may rest on those little shoulders sagging under the weight of their huge backpacks as they trudge back to school.
The American economy is 70 percent driven by consumer spending, and the problem is that consumers aren’t spending. This is holding back not only our own economic recovery, but recovery in Europe as well. The French and Germans are counting on us.
Same-store sales at big retailers that had been rising nearly 4 percent in 2008 are now falling almost 6 percent. This is not good. You can imagine the alarm of the Chinese as unsold stuff destined for America piles up on their wharves.
Because of job losses, pay cuts, foreclosures and runaway credit-card debt, many Americans don’t have money to spend, and those who do are saving it. We may be entering a novel period in modern American history, what The Wall Street Journal called “a prolonged period of thrift.”
One of the few bright spots in America’s refusal to spend — or at least spend as the retailers are accustomed to having us spend — is car sales, but that’s largely because of the “Cash for Clunkers” program. And how much longer can we count on Uncle Sam to tuck $4,500 in our pockets and give us a gentle shove toward the nearest dealer showroom?
And, sadly, as football season approaches, there’s no similar program to get us to go out and buy humongous wall-size flat-screen TVs with sound systems capable of killing small pets. No, if the government gets any more money, it will only spend it on something boring like health care.
Somebody has to get out there and spend. The thinking is that if Americans won’t spend money on themselves, maybe they’ll spend it on their kids, specifically the 80 million or so who are now starting back to school.
With sales down and Christmas looking not so hot, our best hope for stimulus spending may be the money parents spend to clothe, shoe and equip their offspring so they’ll get an education and maybe come out of school smart enough to get themselves out of the fiscal mess we’re going to leave them.
As it is, the National Retail Federation estimates that the nation will spend $47.5 billion so our youngsters don’t show up on the schoolhouse steps looking like something out of Charles Dickens.
The NRF estimates that we will spend $549 for each kid in kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s down 7.7 percent from last year. But we’re only halfway through the back-to-school sales window, so there’s still time to buck up those figures and not only brighten your own kid’s day but that of a French or German exporter.
The spending on college students comes out to $618 per head, the difference being the vast quantity of electronic equipment required by life at an institution of higher learning.
If spending on school and college students helps rescue our economy, we can make that generation a solemn promise: If God grants us another economic boom, we won’t squander it the way we did the last two. Really.
— McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.