We get it; the economy is inconveniently terrible. Scolding the working class doesn’t help.
Now Independence Day is long gone, summer seems more over than just begun. The days are already getting shorter, if no cooler.
Summer can be a challenging time for families with school-age children, no more so than when it’s winding down at last. For low-income families stretched paper thin paycheck to paycheck, summertime can be a major financial burden.
Childcare, in case anyone is still counting, is still just as astronomically expensive as it has ever been- and like everything else, even more so these days. A struggling single mother might make an entire mortgage payment for what she might shell out for childcare in a month.
The day the kids are old enough to be enrolled in public school is a day of great financial windfall for most working-class families. It’s better than a winning lotto ticket. Public school is infinitely less expensive than the babysitter. Throw in hot school lunches at a reduced rate, good-start breakfast programs, a first-class education, and tax dollar for tax dollar U.S. public schools are a low-income parent’s best friend.
At least, they were.
Closing public schools to in-person learning, surely we can all agree in hindsight, may have been a bit of a mistake.
This year, low-income families and struggling parents are coping with new worries and woes. Will school be open?
And if it is, how will they afford to send their kids?
Back-to-school shopping season is nearly upon American parents who are sinking financially- far more than they have ever been at any other time they can remember.
Books, clothes, school supplies, more school supplies, fees, dues; America’s public schools are, on balance, a terrific value for parents, families, and communities. They are not, however, free.
Cancelling or scaling back the annual 4th of July backyard family celebration may have left families feeling less than festive this year; eschewing the family’s modest summer vacation road trip probably went over about as well.
When it comes to leisure activities, there is a bit of budge in the budget.
Back-to-school shopping is more than just a marketing ploy dreamed up by retailers: It’s an opportunity to sell people things for a reason, nearly on par with the Christmas shopping season.
Families need things when the back-to-school season hits. Children grow out of their clothes and shoes; fast. August is also the season of youth intramural sports starting up again, music programs, dance classes, scouts, gymnastics.
Kids want things. They also want to do things; things cost money.
And these aren’t kids fresh off a two-year period of normal nirvana. These are youth on the brink of a mid-life crisis after 2.5+ years and counting of public school closures, cancelled events, delayed milestones, isolation and neglect.
Yes, neglect. Ask any public school student K-12 if they are getting any sort of help or support at school, group counseling, classes on coping skills, anything. Be prepared to hear the hard truth: “No.”
If anyone in history deserves a back-to-school season of stress-relieving extracurriculars, it is the (hopefully) graduating classes of 2020- 2033.
Instead, their parents are already worrying these deserving kids may get nothing of the kind; only more disappointments, this time about rising prices, budget constraints, and “small” sacrifices.
Public schools might have closed in spring of 2020 and stayed that way for over a year; the school of hard knocks stayed open.
Families already operating at a deficit, with expenses for bare necessities amounting to more than income month after month, who have been relying on credit cards and incurring other debts are in for another very rude surprise when their interest rates suddenly go up.
If you were setting low-income, working-class American families up for failure, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better strategy than to force them to rely on credit cards after two years of reduced income, then raise prices and interest rates simultaneously.
American families are currently under all the strain they can bear.
And then some.
And yet, media news sites seem to have little sympathy.
“Note to Reporters: Americans Are Better Off Even After Inflation,” scolded Washington Monthly on February 23, 2022, adding, “Why the conventional wisdom about the economy is wrong.”
“Want to Fight Inflation? Take the Bus,” wrote The Nation on March 24, 2022; “There’s more than one way to combat a price hike.”
That last part is true; there is more than one way to combat a price hike. There are also not enough ways to combat a price hike.
There are hundreds, thousands of ways to make a dollar go further; the working-class knows all of them. No one knows how to save money, stretch a budget, make do, and go without, better than low-income working-class families struggling to make ends meet.
Between taking beleaguered consumers to task for not spending more right now, thereby making a recession more likely- “Inflation means people are spending less, which may be putting a recession on fast track,” USA Today, June 30, 2022- and trying to convince American consumers to use the power of positive thinking to overcome their financial problems- “There’s a right way and a wrong way to think about inflation: Here’s a right way,” LA Times, November 26, 2021- our chattering media classes have never sounded more at sea.
Media companies are even using an appeal to patriotism, humanitarianism and basic human decency, along with a stark warning that democracy is on the line if low-income, working-class Americans can’t see past their selfish needs for food, fuel and shelter.
It’s almost as if media companies are providing talking points for cocktail parties- things to bring up if wealthy friends or comfortably middle-class neighbors start jawing about higher prices.
The, “calm down and spend some money,” dialogue is falling more flat the further down the economic ladder you go, with good reason.
There are already long lines at U.S. food banks. Animal shelters are currently dealing with an influx of pets families feel they can no longer afford. Prices haven’t gone up; they are still going up.
Some media outlets are warning that America’s economic situation is much worse than is being widely reported, and the worst is yet to come- sensationalism selling probably better than sermonizing.
What working-class Americans could use from corporate, legacy and mainstream media outlets is a bit of empathy, along with responsible news coverage of the current economic situation- not an unlovely combination of sugar-coating, condescension and fear-mongering.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)