Families are feeling the pinch of back-to-school spending

Hundreds of families recently weathered the sweltering July heat to line up at a free school supplies event in Haughville, a neighborhood on the Near Westside of Indianapolis. This is almost double the number of families compared to last year who showed up at Christamore House Community Center. Parents said soaring inflation made it harder for them to buy back-to-school items.

“The price of everything has gone up – petrol, food prices – everything has gone up,” said Kewanna Heard, a mother of seven. “And your job doesn’t pay you as much to support yourself.” So it was really difficult.

For all consumer products, including those Heard was concerned about, the latest inflation rate was about 9 percent. Even though some Hoosier wages have increased by around 4-7% – depending on the industry and job in question – that’s not enough to keep up with the year-over-year price increases that the country hasn’t. known for almost 40 years. , said R. Andrew Buttersa assistant professor of business economics and public policy at Indiana University.

The job market is strong, Butters said, and some households have increased their incomes, but it’s not enough.

“These gains are still unlikely to fully compensate households for the increased costs,” he said.

Last school year, there were a record increase in back-to-school spending because people were buying more items as students returned to in-person learning after the peak of the pandemic.

This year, families are expected to spend even more — $864 on back-to-school items, about $15 more than last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

But this year, the increase in expenses is due to the fact that everything – including school supplies – is more expensive. Butters said families were spending an average of about 10% more on living expenses than in previous years.

The latest Consumer Price Index results showed that the largest increases in inflation came from energy components, such as household utility bills and gasoline for vehicles, as well as energy products. ‘grocery. This leaves less money to spend on student needs, such as new clothes, notebooks, calculators, and general classroom supplies requested by some teachers.

“If you have to choose between getting crayons for your child and putting food on the table, you’re definitely going to choose the food on the table,” said La’Toya Pitts, general manager of Christamore House.

Although economic status varies for residents of Haughville, the area is home to many families with low to no income. Pitts said about 95% of the population they serve are black and brown families. The center typically holds supply drives once or twice a year with an expected attendance of 200-250 families per event.

The Haughville native said the spike in prices is affecting everyone. Families who have never struggled to provide for their children are now asking for support, from gift cards to groceries to bus passes or other transportation needs. But the gap between families who already had no access to resources is even greater.

Inflation strains fundraiser organizers

The Christamore House Supply Campaign was organized by four high school students participating in an eight-week internship sponsored by the Bank of America Student Leaders program. Rushville-based organization Changing Footprints, which has multiple offices in Indianapolis, donated 700 pairs of shoes. The Black Employee Network and an anonymous pastor also donated supplies. Christamore House used about $2,500 to buy about 300 school uniforms which were given away for free.

Even with community support, student organizers said more was needed to help local families. When buying supplies, they found that their money didn’t stretch as far as it used to.

“Like, $200 doesn’t go much into backpacks anymore,” said Nik, a summer intern and senior at Park Tudor High School. “That’s 10 backpacks. When we’re trying to serve 500 people, that’s just not something we can afford as a local nonprofit.

Heard, the mother of seven, arrived late and missed free uniforms and some school supplies. Now she’s trying to find other places that will provide free school clothes so she doesn’t have to rack up her credit card debt.

“We had to stop going to unnecessary places,” Heard said. “So we do everything in our house now. We reduced some things like foods they used to eat, like branded foods. We replaced them with no-name brand foods. Everything is limited right now.

Indiana lawmakers debate in a special legislative session, how best to help Hoosiers struggling with inflation-related costs. But some of the energy price increases are largely beyond the control of state legislators until international relations, such as the war in Ukraine, are brought under control.

Butters, the IU assistant professor, hopes to see lower inflation rates by the end of the year as the Federal Reserve fights inflationfamilies are returning to the workforce and supply chain issues are diminishing.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @_elizabethgabs.