Some organizations are helping their communities get ready to go back to school as parents share concerns about rising costs for school supplies.
It’s that time of year again — back to school. But some parents may not be as excited as their kids are.
As inflation continues to climb, some parents are worried about the increasing cost of school supplies.
Alissa Brown is a mother of four living in Colorado Springs who’s taking advantage of sales and budgeting.
“I’ve noticed clothes are more expensive, shoes are more expensive,” she said. “For things like backpacks and lunch boxes, that’s when I really shop the Prime and Target deals.”
In North Carolina, father Drew Davidson has noticed the increases as well.
“You definitely see an increase from the little things,” he said. “It’s a private school, so just the tuition — you’ve got to stay ahead of the game, try to keep that money to the side, do little things here and there just to stay ahead.”
The National Retail Federation, or NRF, says consumers are paying more due to inflation and supply chain issues. Compared to three years ago, back-to-school spending increased by 41% and back-to-college expenses increased by 36%.
Despite higher prices, the NRF says people are still spending.
Families with children in kindergarten through 12th grade are spending an average of $860 on school supplies. College students are spending an average of $1,200 — not including tuition and books.
Keith Lobis from Wells Fargo recommends parents stick to their budget, see what they have at home and cut that from their shopping lists. He also suggests parents consider buying in bulk.
“Sitting down and having your school supply list is a great way to start so you have a detailed list of things you want or need to buy,” he said.
And some groups are stepping up to meet families’ needs. Organizations like Northern Kentucky Harvest offer backpacks filled with supplies.
“I think it just gets harder year after year,” Northern Kentucky Harvest President Paul Gottbrath said. “I mean, there’s a whole assortment of expenses that they have to deal with. I think it’s just hard. A lot of these families are really struggling just to meet the basics.”
In Milwaukee, Jacarrie Kicks4Kids assists families with returning to the classroom.
“At this event, the kids are able to get book bags or supplies, a free haircut or hairdo, they can get a brand new pair of shoes,”said organization founder Jacarrie Carr.
The group plans to give away 600 pairs of shoes — a fresh new pair for a fresh new school year.
PITTSTON, Pa. — Once upon a time, when parents were scrambling to occupy their children during pandemic lockdowns, bicycles were hard to find. But today, in a giant warehouse in northeastern Pennsylvania, there are shiny new Huffys and Schwinns available at big discounts.
The same goes for patio furniture, garden hoses and portable pizza ovens. There are home spas, Rachael Ray’s nonstick pans and a backyard firepit, which promises to make “memories every day.”
The warehouse is run by Liquidity Services, a company that collects surplus and returned goods from major retailers like Target and Amazon and resells them, often for cents on the dollar. The facility opened last November and is operating at exceptionally high volumes for this time of year.
last month, some major retailers say shoppers are buying less clothing, gardening equipment and electronics and focusing instead on basics like food and gas.
Adding to that glut are all the things people bought during the pandemic — often online — and then returned. In 2021, shoppers returned an average of 16.6 percent of their purchases, up from 10.6 percent in 2020 and more than double the rate in 2019, according to an analysis by the National Retail Federation, a trade group, and Appriss Retail, a software and analytics firm.
Last year’s returns, which retailers are not always able to resell themselves, totaled $761 billion in lost sales. That, the retail federation noted, is more than the annual budget for the U.S. Department of Defense.
rising consumer prices and declining spending, the American economy is showing clear signs of slowing down, fueling concerns about a potential recession. Here are other eight measures signaling trouble ahead:
Consumer confidence. In June, the University of Michigan’s survey of consumer sentiment hit its lowest level in its 70-year history, with nearly half of respondents saying inflation is eroding their standard of living.
The housing market. Demand for real estate has decreased, and construction of new homes is slowing. These trends could continue as interest rates rise, and real estate companies, including Compass and Redfin, have laid off employees in anticipation of a downturn in the housing market.
Copper. A commodity seen by analysts as a measure of sentiment about the global economy — because of its widespread use in buildings, cars and other products — copper is down more than 20 percent since January, hitting a 17-month low on July 1.
Oil. Crude prices are up this year, in part because of supply constraints resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but they have recently started to waver as investors worry about growth.
The bond market. Long-term interest rates in government bonds have fallen below short-term rates, an unusual occurrence that traders call a yield-curve inversion. It suggests that bond investors are expecting an economic slowdown.
“You would think that there would be enough data and enough history to see that a little more clearly,” he added. “But it also suggests that times are changing and they are changing fast and more dramatically.”
Strong consumer spending may have saved the economy from ruin during the pandemic, but it has also led to enormous excess and waste.
Retailers have begun to slash prices on inventory in their stores and online. Last Monday, Walmart issued the industry’s latest warning when it said that its operating profits would drop sharply this year as it cut prices on an oversupply of general merchandise.
above a reclaimed strip mine dating back to when this region was a major coal producer. Today, the local economy is home to dozens of e-commerce warehouses that cover the hilly landscape like giant spaceships, funneling goods to the population centers in and around New York and Philadelphia.
Liquidity Services, a publicly traded company founded in 1999, decided to open its new facility as close as it could to the Scranton area’s major e-commerce warehouses, making it easy for retailers to dispense with their unwanted and returned items.
Even before the inventory glut appeared this spring, returns had been a major problem for retailers. The huge surge in e-commerce sales during the pandemic — increasing more than 40 percent in 2020 from the previous year — has only added to it.
The National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail calculate that more than 10 percent of returns last year involved fraud, including people wearing clothing and then sending it back or stealing goods from stores and returning them with fake receipts. But more fundamentally, industry analysts say the increasing returns reflect consumer expectations that everything can be taken back.
burned in incinerators that generate electricity.
stock price plummeted nearly 25 percent in one day. Other retailers’ share prices have also fallen.
Target’s stumbles have been an opportunity for people like Walter Crowley.
Mr. Crowley regularly rents a U-Haul and drives back and forth to the liquidation warehouse from his home near Binghamton, N.Y.
Understand Inflation and How It Impacts You
Mr. Crowley, who turns 54 next month, focuses mostly on discounted home improvement goods, which he resells to local contractors, like multiple pallets of discontinued garage door openers, tiles and flooring.
But on a sweltering day earlier this month, he stood outside the warehouse in his U-Haul loading up on items from Target.
“I saw its stock got tanked,” said Mr. Crowley, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and sweat pouring down his face. “It’s an ugly situation for them.”
He bought several cribs, a set of sheets for his own house and a pink castle for a girl in his neighborhood who just turned 5.
“I end up giving a lot of it away to my neighbors, to be honest,” he said. “Some people are barely getting by.”
The buyers bid for the goods through online auctions and then drive to the warehouse to pick up their winnings.
It’s a diverse group. There was a science teacher who stocked up on plastic parts for his class, as well as a woman who planned to resell her purchases — neon green Igloo coolers, a table saw, baby pajamas — in the Haitian and Jamaican communities of New York. She ships other items to Trinidad.
The Pennsylvania warehouse, one of eight that Liquidity Service operates around the country, employs about 20 workers, some of whom have been hired on a temporary basis. The starting pay is $17.50 an hour.
Charles Benincasa, 39, is a temporary worker who has had numerous “warehousing” jobs, the most recent at the Chewy pet food distribution center in nearby Wilkes-Barre.
Mr. Benincasa said his friends and family had gotten in the habit of returning many of the goods they buy online. But as he’s watched the boxes pile up in the Liquidity Services warehouse, he worries about the implications for the economy.
“Companies are losing a lot of money,” he said. “There is no free lunch.”
Assaults at stores have been increasing at a faster pace than the national average. Some workers are tired of fearing for their safety.
There was the customer who stomped on the face of a private security guard. Then the one who lit herself on fire inside a store. The person who drank gasoline and the one who brandished an ax. An intoxicated shopper who pelted a worker with soup cans. A shoplifter who punched a night manager twice in the head and then shot him in the chest.
And there was the shooting that killed 10 people, including three workers, at the King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo., in March 2021. Another shooting left 10 more people dead at a Buffalo grocery store last month.
In her 37 years in the grocery industry, said Kim Cordova, a union president in Colorado, she had never experienced the level of violence that her members face today.
F.B.I. said, more than half the so-called active shooter attacks — in which an individual with a gun is killing or trying to kill people in a busy area — occurred in places of commerce, including stores.
“Violence in and around retail settings is definitely increasing, and it is a concern,” said Jason Straczewski, a vice president of government relations and political affairs at the National Retail Federation.
Tracking retail theft is more difficult because many prosecutors and retailers rarely press charges. Still, some politicians have seized on viral videos of brazen shoplifting to portray left-leaning city leaders as soft on crime. Others have accused the industry of grossly exaggerating losses and warned that the thefts were being used as a pretext to roll back criminal justice reforms.
“These crimes deserve to be taken seriously, but they are also being weaponized ahead of the midterm elections,” said Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Law School.
While the political debate swirls about the extent of the crime and its causes, many of the people staffing the stores say retailers have been too permissive of crime, particularly theft. Some employees want more armed security guards who can take an active role in stopping theft, and they want more stores to permanently bar rowdy or violent customers, just as airlines have been taking a hard line with unruly passengers.
Kroger, which owns Fred Meyer, did not respond to requests for comment.
Some unions are demanding that retailers make official accommodations for employees who experience anxiety working with the public by finding them store roles where they don’t regularly interact with customers.
it was revealed that the retailers were hounding falsely accused customers.
The industry says it is putting much of its focus on stopping organized rings of thieves who resell stolen items online or on the street. They point to big cases like the recent indictment of dozens of people who are accused of stealing millions of dollars in merchandise from stores like Sephora, Bloomingdale’s and CVS.
But it’s not clear how much of the crime is organized. Matthew Fernandez, 49, who works at a King Soopers in Broomfield, Colo., said he was stunned when he watched a thief walk out with a cart full of makeup, laundry detergent and meat and drive off in a Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.
“The ones you think are going to steal are not the ones doing it,” he said. “From high class to low class, they are all doing it.”
Ms. Barry often gives money to the homeless people who come into her store, so they can buy food. She also knows the financial pressures on people with lower incomes as the cost of living soars.
When people steal, she said, the company can write off the loss. But those losses mean less money for workers.
“That is part of my raise and benefits that is walking out the door,” she said. “That is money we deserve.”
Long checkout lines. Closed fitting rooms. Empty shelves. Shortened store hours.
Plus the dread of contracting the coronavirus and yet another season of skirmishes with customers who refuse to wear masks.
A weary retail work force is experiencing the fallout from the latest wave of the pandemic, with a rapidly spreading variant cutting into staffing.
While data shows that people infected with the Omicron variant are far less likely to be hospitalized than those with the Delta variant, especially if they are vaccinated, many store workers are dealing with a new jump in illness and exposures, grappling with shifting guidelines around isolation and juggling child care. At the same time, retailers are generally not extending hazard pay as they did earlier in the pandemic and have been loath to adopt vaccine or testing mandates.
“We had gotten to a point here where we were comfortable, it wasn’t too bad, and then all of a sudden this new variant came and everybody got sick,” said Artavia Milliam, who works at H&M in Hudson Yards in Manhattan, which is popular with tourists. “It’s been overwhelming, just having to deal with not having enough staff and then twice as many people in the store.”
said last week that it would shorten store hours nationally on Mondays through Thursdays for the rest of the month. At least 20 Apple Stores have had to close in recent weeks because so many employees had contracted Covid-19 or been exposed to someone who had, and others have curtailed hours or limited in-store access.
At a Macy’s in Lynnwood, Wash., Liisa Luick, a longtime sales associate in the men’s department, said, “Every day, we have call-outs, and we have a lot of them.” She said the store had already reduced staff to cut costs in 2020. Now, she is often unable to take breaks and has fielded complaints from customers about a lack of sales help and unstaffed registers.
“Morale could not be lower,” said Ms. Luick, who is a steward for the local unit of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Even though Washington has a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, “we get a lot of pushback, so morale is even lower because there’s so many people who, there’s no easy way to say this, just don’t believe in masking,” she added.
Store workers are navigating the changing nature of the virus and trying their best to gauge new risks. Many say that with vaccinations and boosters, they are less fearful for their lives than they were in 2020 — the United Food and Commercial Workers union has tracked more than 200 retail worker deaths since the start of the pandemic — but they remain nervous about catching and spreading the virus.
More broadly, the staffing shortages have put a new spotlight on a potential vaccine-or-testing mandate from the Biden administration, which major retailers have been resisting. The fear of losing workers appears to be looming large, especially now.
While the retail industry initially cited the holiday season rush for its resistance to such rules, it has more recently pointed to the burden of testing unvaccinated workers. After oral arguments in the case on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism about whether the Biden administration had legal authority to mandate that large employers require workers to be vaccinated.
The National Retail Federation, a major industry lobbying group, said in a statement last week that it “continues to believe that OSHA exceeded its authority in promulgating its vaccine mandate.” The group estimated that the order would require 20 million tests a week nationally, based on external data on unvaccinated workers, and that “such testing capacity currently does not exist.”
When the top managers at Mr. Waugh’s Stop & Shop store began asking employees whether they were vaccinated in preparation for the federal vaccine mandates that could soon take effect, he said, a large number expressed concern to him about being asked to disclose that information.
“It was concerning to see that so many people were distressed,” he said, though all of the employees complied.
Ms. Luick of Macy’s near Seattle said that she worked with several vocal opponents of the Covid-19 vaccines and that she anticipated that at least some of her colleagues would resign if they were asked to provide vaccination status or proof of negative tests.
Still, Macy’s was among major employers that started asking employees for their vaccination status last week ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on Friday and said it might require proof of negative tests beginning on Feb. 16.
“Our primary focus at this stage is preparing our members for an eventual mandate to ensure they have the information and tools they need to manage their work force and meet the needs of their customers,” said Brian Dodge, president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which includes companies like Macy’s, Target, Home Depot, Gap and Walmart.
As seasonal Covid-19 surges become the norm, unions and companies are looking for consistent policies. Jim Araby, director of strategic campaigns for the food and commercial workers union in Northern California, said the retail industry needed to put in place more sustainable supports for workers who got ill.
For example, he said, a trust fund jointly administered by the union and several employers could no longer offer Covid-related sick days for union members.
“We have to start treating this as endemic,” Mr. Araby said. “And figuring out what are the structural issues we have to put forward to deal with this.”
“You can’t really mandate booster shots yet,” he said. “It hasn’t been signed off on by any federal agency.”
JPMorgan Chase, whose decision to require vaccines is complicated by its sprawling retail operations across the United States, declined to comment on how the court’s most recent decision, along with the recent spike in cases, affects any plans to mandate vaccines. But the bank on Friday told its American employees who do not work in bank branches that “each group should assess who needs to come into the office, work priorities and who should revert to working from home on a more regular basis over the next few weeks.”
Walmart, which has mandated vaccines for mainly its corporate staff, also did not have any comment on broadening that requirement. Only 66 percent of its roughly 1.6 million U.S. employees are vaccinated, according to data compiled by the Shift Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
Legal questions about the OSHA rule are far from resolved. Immediately after the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday, several of the many plaintiffs who have challenged that rule asked the Supreme Court to intervene as part of its “emergency” docket. Appeals from the Sixth Circuit are assigned for review by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who under Supreme Court rules could in theory make a decision on his own but is more likely to refer the matter to the full Supreme Court. With the Labor Department now delaying full enforcement of its rule until Feb. 9, the justices have several weeks to ask for abbreviated briefings if they want them.
“Things are going back and forth literally in a matter of hours,” said Sydney Heimbrock, an adviser on industry and government issues at Qualtrics, who works with hundreds of clients on using the company’s software to track employee vaccination status. “The confusion stems from the on-again-off-again, is it a rule or isn’t it a rule? The litigations, appeals, reversing decisions and making decisions.”
Even the spread of Omicron hasn’t changed the position of some of the vaccine rule’s most ardent opponents. The National Retail Federation, one of the trade groups challenging the administration’s vaccine rule, is among those that have filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The group is in favor of vaccinations but has pushed for companies to get more time to carry out mandates. Still, even as it fights the administration’s rule, the federation is also holding twice weekly calls with members to compare notes on how to carry it out.
“There’s no question that the increased number of variants like Omicron certainly don’t make it less dangerous,” said Stephanie Martz, the group’s chief administrative officer and general counsel. “The legitimate, remaining question is, is this inherent to the workplace?”
But Judge Joan L. Larsen, a Trump appointee, dissented, arguing — as had the Fifth Circuit panel before her — that the agency had exceeded its legal authority.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
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Pfizer vaccine in younger children. The company said that a low dose of its coronavirus vaccine did not produce an adequate immune response in 2- to 5-year-olds in ongoing clinical trials. The setback threatens to keep the vaccine from younger children for longer than many had hoped.
U.S. surpasses 800,000 deaths. This past week, Covid deaths in the United States surpassed 800,000 — the highest known number of any country. About 75 percent of those deaths have involved people 65 or older. One in 100 older Americans has died from the virus.
“The mandate is aimed directly at protecting the unvaccinated from their own choices,” Judge Larsen wrote. “Vaccines are freely available, and unvaccinated people may choose to protect themselves at any time. And because the secretary likely lacks congressional authority to force them to protect themselves, the remaining stay factors cannot tip the balance.”
All of the judges on the Fifth Circuit panel that had blocked the rule were conservative Republican appointees.
Challengers to the decision could appeal directly to the Supreme Court, which is controlled by a conservative bloc of six Republican appointees. (The Supreme Court this month refused to block New York’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus even when they cite religious objections.)
Challengers could also appeal to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Of its 16 sitting judges, five were appointed by Democrats and 11 were appointed by Republicans. (However, one of the Republican appointees, Judge Helene N. White, was originally a nominee of a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, before being renominated by a Republican one, George W. Bush, as part of a political deal.)
Conditions on the ground are rapidly changing, with new cases surging, apparently because of the more-infectious Omicron variant. The Justice Department last month warned that keeping the mandate from coming into effect “would likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day, in addition to large numbers of hospitalizations, other serious health effects and tremendous costs.”
The OSHA rule, alongside a separate requirement for federal contractors, has helped drive a number of large companies to announce a form of vaccine mandate, including Procter & Gamble, IBM and American Airlines. Others, like Tyson Foods and Google, introduced mandates on their own, in the face of the rising risk of the Delta variant.
The holiday shopping season has arrived, and retailers are ringing it in by doing everything from cutting prices to stocking showrooms to lure back customers who stayed at home last year. What the biggest of them are not doing is the one thing the White House and many public health experts have asked them to: mandate that their workers be vaccinated.
As other industries with workers in public-facing roles, like airlines and hospitals, have moved toward requiring vaccines, retailers have dug in their heels, citing concerns about a labor shortage. And a portion of one of the country’s largest work forces will remain unvaccinated, just as shoppers are expected to flock to stores.
At the heart of the retailers’ resistance is a worry about having enough people to work. In a tight labor market, retailers have been offering perks like higher wages and better hours to prospective employees in hopes of having enough people to staff their stores and distribution centers. The National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest trade group, has estimated that retailers will hire up to 665,000 seasonal workers this year.
held up in litigation, challenged by a number of lawsuits from a broad coalition of opponents, and could make its way to the Supreme Court. Court filings by the administration warn that blocking the rule would “likely cost dozens or even hundreds of lives per day.”
have increased more than 20 percent over the past two weeks.
“It’s a pretty big ask, there’s no one denying that,” Crystal Watson, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, said of requiring vaccinations for retail employees. “But we’ve also tried a lot of other things to help people get vaccinated — and I think a mandate right now is what we need to get over that barrier.”
Walmart, the nation’s biggest private employer, declined to comment on the federation’s lawsuit or its plans for vaccinations or testing. A spokeswoman for Target said the company had “started taking the necessary steps to meet the requirements of the new Covid-19 rules for large companies as soon as the details were announced.”
Spokespeople for several retailers on the federation’s board, including Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Saks, declined to comment for this article.
have not required them for frontline workers, sharing concerns about challenges in hiring. But those workers, including about four million at stores, are among the most vulnerable. They interact frequently with the public and are less likely to be vaccinated themselves. Mandates at Tyson, United Airlines and several health care companies indicate that when faced with the prospect of losing their job, employees most frequently choose inoculation.
“We know vaccine requirements work,” said Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for the White House. “The federal government, the country’s largest employer, has successfully implemented its requirement in a way that has boosted vaccinations and avoids any disruptions to operations.”
The State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.
A growing number of employers, universities and businesses are now issuing some form of a vaccine requirement. Here’s a closer look.
Still, companies mandating vaccines have faced protests or lawsuits. In some states legislation has been passed to impede it. Disney, for instance, paused a mandate for employees at Disney World in Florida after it became illegal for employers in the state to require workers to get the shot.
The panic and precautions tied to Covid-19 have played out at retail stores throughout the pandemic and ensnared their workers.
Guitar Center and Dillard’s to argue that they needed to stay open — and keep their employees coming in — despite the worsening public health crisis. Workers have been at the forefront of disputes around mask mandates and then mask enforcement. Retail chains like REI have been criticized for failing to inform employees about Covid cases in stores. Grocery store workers were not given priority access to vaccines in many states.
Target and Walmart, throughout the pandemic. And while they are still facing rising prices and supply chain strain, executives have indicated recently that pressure on staffing has waned.
“We feel really good about our staffing going into the holiday season,” Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive, told CNBC last week. He added that the company’s retention numbers were “some of the strongest in our history,” which he attributed to perks and safety measures.
Retailers are betting that consumers will be comfortable shopping in stores, where foot traffic is already higher than in 2020, regardless of the industry’s efforts to fight the new vaccination and testing requirements. And for those who are concerned about the lack of vaccinations, the companies have bolstered their e-commerce operations and curbside pickup offerings in the past year, though in-store shopping often leads to more purchases and fewer returns.
When asked what Macy’s would tell concerned customers about shopping in stores, Mr. Gennette said: “What I would say is we encourage every one of our colleagues to be vaccinated and every colleague wears a mask in our stores and warehouses to protect themselves and others.”
imploring companies to move forward with the Labor Department rules.
“The hope was to provide some perspective for business leaders to remind them this is not a political issue,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who was one of the signatories. Dr. Jha said it was important for companies in all industries to follow the rule, noting that retailers play a particular role, given the nature of their employee base. He said those measures should be put in place during the holiday season — not after — especially as that is when case numbers are expected to rise.
“Do they really want to be superspreader places during the holiday season and be responsible for their employees getting sick and for their employees spreading it to customers?” Dr. Jha said.