Back-to-school costs set to soar to new heights

Nicole Sebastian has been “a bit more selective” when shopping for school supplies for her two children this year. With inflation at its highest since the early 1980s, prices are on the rise across the board, and notebooks and markers are no exception.

Sebastian bought most of her kids’ supplies — including coloring and craft supplies for her first-grade student, Bruno, and graph paper and a protractor for her fourth-grade student, Ophelia — at Target. When she couldn’t find the flexible binder Bruno needed, she ventured to OfficeMax. Thinking the Post-its would be cheaper there, she put the Target ones back on the shelf.

Sebastian, who lives in the Lathrop Homes neighborhood, estimates she spent about $200 on school supplies for her children. And she has yet to buy new backpacks or uniforms, which are needed in her children’s Chicago public school classrooms. School starts on August 22 this year, the first first day in years.

“It adds up now,” she said.

The consumer price index hit 9.1% in June as Chicagoans continued to manage sky-high prices for everything from food to gasoline. Now the costs of back to school are adding up too.

“Our school is like 30% low-income, so I think that would be a significant cost to those students,” Sebastian said.

Sebastian sometimes buys more items than his own children need, sending them to school with a pack of eight glue sticks instead of four, for example, so they can share with their classmates. .

In Illinois, parents who purchase school supplies and some clothing from August 5 through August 14 will receive a state sales tax holiday that will reduce the rate from 6.25% to 1.25%.

But back-to-school costs are still a burden for many families, said employees of nonprofit organizations serving children.

“We get so many calls…from parents or families saying, ‘You know what, my husband lost his job, we’re barely paying our rent, we have to pick up school supplies for our kids as we go. As we go back to school, how can you help us?” said Steven Sartin, associate director of Back 2 School America, a nonprofit that provides school supplies to children.

“It’s increased dramatically,” he said.

By the end of August, Sartin said, Back 2 School America plans to distribute more than 30,000 back-to-school kits filled with supplies to children in need. Most school supplies will go to children in Illinois, he said; the organization, formerly known as Back 2 School Illinois, has recently expanded beyond the state.

Back 2 School America works with various community partners, such as the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to provide school supplies to children who need them most.

The nonprofit is also feeling the effects of inflation, Sartin said, even though it can get better deals on school supplies than the average person because it buys in bulk. But Sartin said major companies sponsoring school supplies with the nonprofit have taken note of the increased need and stepped up to help.

Cradles to Crayons Chicago, a nonprofit organization, also saw a greater need this year for free school supplies that it provides to elementary school students in Chicagoland, according to Executive Director Dawn Melchiorre.

The organization plans to provide 70,000 backpacks with supplies, up from 60,000 last year. Most backpacks will be distributed by Chicago Public Schools. Cradles to Crayons has partnered with the district’s community engagement team to allocate backpacks to schools most in need based on poverty data and the number of students eligible for free lunch and at a reduced price, Melchiorre said.

“Demand is definitely up,” she said.

According to a Deloitte national survey of 1,200 parents of school-aged children, families plan to spend 8% more on school supplies than last year. A smaller survey of 400 local parents showed that back-to-school spending in the Chicago area is expected to remain flat from last year. Still, parents here said they plan to spend $886 per child, more than $200 more than the national average.

Meanwhile, a third of parents nationwide — and a similar proportion in Chicago — said their family’s household situation had deteriorated since last year. (In 2021, only 15% of parents in Chicago and 22% of parents nationally said this was the case.) This year, nearly 60% of parents surveyed said they were worried about increased costs of back-to-school items due to inflation.

“Chicago shoppers are uncomfortable, but that’s not stopping them from spending on their kids,” said Deloitte director Matt Adams.

Overall, back-to-school spending is expected to hit a new high of $34.4 billion for elementary through high school children, up from a forecast of $32.5 billion last year, Deloitte research found. .

While many parents said they feared the items were out of stock, executives from companies ranging from Kohl’s to Shoe Carnival to Tillys assured investors that inventory issues and shortages will not wouldn’t be a problem this year.

Michelle Gass, CEO of Kohl’s, told a recent conference that the company would be well positioned compared to last year, when children’s products were hit hard by supply chain disruptions.

“We were in hunting mode in an environment where it was very difficult to hunt,” Gass said, noting that the company planned last year’s season cautiously and ended up with a product shortfall in some areas. areas, including that of children. “So, of course, we fixed that.”

Adams said he didn’t expect supply chain issues to be as severe as last year.

“Some of the issues that we’ve seen in terms of production and shipping have been resolved, but also retailers have invested in their supply chains to address concerns, I think, in a bit more proactive way,” he said. he declared.

Even before the pandemic, the cost of school supplies was a burden on low-income families, said Jan Waters, program manager for clinical services at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides services for child abuse victims. The center organizes an annual collection of backpacks for the children it serves. This year, costs are an even bigger burden, Waters said.

Some schools have added additional health and safety equipment to their supply lists, she said.

“They have everything we always needed, but now they’ve added hand sanitizer, tissues and wipes as well,” she said.

The center plans to distribute about 600 backpacks full of school supplies to children, the vast majority of whom are Chicago public school students, in the weeks leading up to the first day of school.

“Families are still kind of reeling from the impact of the pandemic and the disruptions they’ve had: loss of life, loss of income,” Waters said.

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