COVID-19

Lots of parents hold off on back-to-school shopping

Marielle Segarra Jul 10, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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French schoolchildren wearing protective gear attend class in May. Will this year's purchases include face masks and hand sanitizer along with notebooks and pencils? Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Lots of parents hold off on back-to-school shopping

Marielle Segarra Jul 10, 2020
French schoolchildren wearing protective gear attend class in May. Will this year's purchases include face masks and hand sanitizer along with notebooks and pencils? Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images
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Back-to-school shopping is never easy for the Heritsch family.

It’s a big group: seven kids.

There’s 13-year-old Madeleine, 11-year-old Eleanor, 9-year-old Oliver, 7-year-old Theodore, 5-year-old Ameleia, 3-year-old Julian and 3-month-old Penelope.

If this were a normal year, the family would pile into the van — a 12-seater — and head to the Kohl’s near their town in Wisconsin.

“They would walk around and say, I want to get this, this, and this, and then we’d make them try it on,” said Paul Heritsch, their dad. “It’s a big event.”

Can you imagine it now?

“To keep all the kids wearing their masks and away from other people and not yelling to leave the store all at once — I expect it to be a big challenge.”

So they’re holding off for now because they’re also waiting to hear whether school will even happen in person this year.

The back-to-school season is one of the most important sales periods for retailers. But what does that mean when nobody knows if kids are actually going back to school in person?

In California, Jennifer Aldrich is taking the opposite approach. Her son, Devin, is 12 and goes to private school. He has grown a couple of inches during the pandemic and needs new uniforms, so she bought them recently for $700.

Even if school is remote this year, Devin’s uniform is made up of staple items, like khakis and white polo shirts. “So he could still wear them [at home] — if I can get him to,” she said.

Aldrich also bought supplies: pens, markers and notebooks. “I was concerned that if I didn’t do it now that there would be some sort of run on it,” she said.

Fair enough. We all remember the toilet paper shortages.

Janelle Domeyer in Nebraska sends her 14-year-old twin boys to private school too, but she’s in a different situation. Money is tight, and their school clothes will cost her about $350, so she’s waiting.

“As a single parent, I do the best I can with what I have,” Domeyer said. “And we’re not like hurting for anything, but $350 is quite a bit to set aside just for clothing and another $200, maybe, just for supplies.”

Meanwhile, in California, Kelly Hunsucker was at Target the other day and saw sales associates taking down the summer displays and putting out back-to-school supplies.

“I had to laugh,” Hunsucker said.

She’s not sending her three kids back to their schools, even if they are open. 

“It seemed almost tone-deaf. And I know, Target, they have to, right? They have to operate like things may go back to normal.”

She’s right. At this point, retailers have already stocked up. Their only hope is that parents will buy the stuff. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

It’s still the question on everyone’s minds: What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The $600-a-week payments have ended, officially, as of July 31. For now, there is no additional federal pandemic unemployment assistance. House Democrats want to renew the $600 payments. Senate Republicans have proposed giving the unemployed 70% of their most recent salary by this October, when state unemployment offices have had time to reconfigure their computer systems to do those calculations. Until then, jobless workers would just get another $200. But, nothing has been signed into law yet.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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