COVID-19

For some, pawnshops are a lifeline, especially during an economic crisis

Andy Uhler May 15, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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A woman wearing mask walks past a pawn shop on May 7. Jenny Evans/Getty Images
COVID-19

For some, pawnshops are a lifeline, especially during an economic crisis

Andy Uhler May 15, 2020
A woman wearing mask walks past a pawn shop on May 7. Jenny Evans/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Outside an EZPawn franchise in South Austin, Texas, David Gomez grabs a TV out of his trunk and lugs it inside the store. The 24-year-old says he’s on medical leave from his job at the Tito’s Handmade Vodka distillery and needed some cash to help pay for his mom’s medication.

“Basically we needed a hundred dollars and I didn’t have the money, so I came and brought the TV,” Gomez said.

The other option for Gomez would have been a payday lender, but he sees the pawn shop as a better option.

“I would rather have something lost, where I can work for it harder and get it again, rather than going to a loan place and having debt collectors call me, call my job, call my family,” he said.

Gomez said his credit isn’t good enough to secure a bank loan, so he doesn’t try.

Jordan Birnholtz, COO of PawnGuru, a startup based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said there are a lot of people in the U.S. just like Gomez.

“Over 30 million Americans are underbanked. They don’t have reliable access to the same financial institutions that the rest of the country does,” he said. “And for those people, pawnshops are an essential resource.”

Essential, yes. But a loan from a pawnshop can also be really expensive. They sometimes charge an annual interest rate in excess of 200%.

With tens of millions of people filing for unemployment since the outbreak of COVID-19, pawnshops have seen a modest uptick in business, becoming essential to some communities. 

This is how pawning works (and we’ll take Gomez as our example):

That TV he brought in? EZPawn lent him a hundred bucks for it.

If Gomez can’t keep up with his high-interest payments to get the TV back, the shop will keep it and sell it. It’s called a collateralized loan. 

James Crawford, owner of Heritage Jewelry & Loan in Sugarland, Texas, outside of Houston, said the public’s gut reaction is likely that owning a pawnshop during a global pandemic would be “the greatest thing in the world.” But, he said a lot of folks who might be pouring into pawnshops right now are being floated by those $1,200 checks from the Feds.

“We’re seeing people not have that much of an impending crunch on their cash,” Crawford said.

But he noted that the government money’s going to run out pretty fast.

It did for David Gomez at the EZPawn shop in South Austin. But he’s confident he’ll get his TV back.

“I’ve done this before, so I know I get all my stuff out. I didn’t sell nothing, I pawned it,” he said.

He’s just hoping he only has to take a two-week break from his job at the distillery so he doesn’t have to come back to the pawnshop for a while. 

Editor’s note (May 18, 2020): A previous version of this story misstated the reason Gomez is currently not working at Tito’s. The distillery says it has not furloughed any workers.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Pfizer said early data show its coronavirus vaccine is effective. So what’s next?

In the last few months, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have shared other details of the process including trial blueprints, the breakdown of the subjects and ethnicities and whether they’re taking money from the government. They’re being especially transparent in order to try to temper public skepticism about this vaccine process. The next big test, said Jennifer Miller at the Yale School of Medicine, comes when drug companies release their data, “so that other scientists who the public trust can go in, replicate findings, and communicate them to the public. And hopefully build appropriate trust in a vaccine.”

How is President-elect Joe Biden planning to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic turmoil it’s created?

On Nov. 9, President-Elect Joe Biden announced three co-chairs of his new COVID-19 task force. But what kind of effect might this task force have during this transition time, before Biden takes office? “The transition team can do a lot to amplify and reinforce the messages of scientists and public health experts,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, associate director for the Immunization Action Coalition. Moore said Biden’s COVID task force can also “start talking to state leaders and other experts about exactly what they need to equip them to roll out the vaccines effectively.”

What does slower retail sales growth in October mean for the economy?

It is a truism that we repeat time and again at Marketplace: As goes the U.S. consumer, so goes the U.S. economy. And recently, we’ve been seeing plenty of signs of weakness in the consumer economy. Retail sales were up three-tenths of a percent in October, but the gain was weaker than expected and much weaker than September’s. John Leer, an economist at Morning Consult, said a lack of new fiscal stimulus from Congress is dampening consumers’ appetite to spend. So is the pandemic.

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