Bay Area parents are expecting to spend more money on their children’s back-to-school shopping than any other region, according to a new report from the Deloitte Consumer Industry Center — a whopping $805 per child.
That figure is 35% higher than the national average of $597, with the largest chunk of change going toward technology products. Parents estimate they’ll pay nearly $700 for computers and other electronic gadgets alone, according to the survey.
“Despite keeping an eye on the budget, (across the country) nearly six in 10 parents are willing to splurge for the right reasons, like treating their child, self-expression, or better quality,” noted the report.
Over the past few months, inflation has cooled considerably across the country. June’s inflation figures stood at just 3% — the lowest figure since March of 2021. Despite that, high costs in nearly every category have lingered, and school supplies are 24% higher today than they were two years earlier, according to Deloitte.
In fact, this year’s back-to-school shopping sprees may be the most expensive on record. It’s expected to reach an unprecedented $41.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, up from $36.9 billion last year and the previous high of $37.1 billion in 2021.
“What we’ve seen in retail overall is that kids and pets are slightly recession proof, in terms of people’s willingness to spend on them,” said Karla Martin, a managing director at Deloitte.
Still, not everyone has the luxury to do so. Across California, families at the top of the income distribution level earned 11 times more than families at the bottom, according to a 2021 report from the Public Policy Institute of California.
In 2020, the organization found the wealth gap in the Bay Area was even wider, with those at the top and bottom of the income ladder further apart than anywhere else in the state.
“Back-to-school costs, generally, magnify inequity,” said Heather Lattimer, the dean of San Jose State’s college of education. “(I’m concerned about) the differential hidden in those overall averages — and the impact that differential will have in setting up children for success or failure before they even walk in the door. Some parents are able to splurge, and other parents are not.”
Some teachers have tried to ease that burden for students and their families. Douglas Spalding, an eighth grade science teacher at San Lorenzo Unified School District, collects free, used binders from a local depot to give to his students. Ninety percent of the students at his school, Edendale Middle, are eligible for free or reduced meals, a category often used to signify socioeconomic disadvantage.
“There are families that can’t afford the binder, or can’t afford the paper, or can’t afford the pens and pencils,” said Spalding. “I often find out from the parents when they ask: is it ok if they bring the supplies in a week or two, or in a month?”
For that reason exactly, San Ramon Valley’s Bella Vista Elementary School has used a different approach for student school supplies. This year, parents were asked to contribute up to $250 toward a general supply fund — and teachers like Jacqueline Wehe used that money to buy her fifth-grade students materials in bulk.
“I would be heartbroken if one of my students showed up on the first day of school and saw all their peers with supplies they didn’t have,” said Wehe. “This way, we can get a better deal by buying in bulk — and I think it’s more equitable, too.”
Even so, Wehe still said she was shocked by how little her dollars stretched this year. She bought the same supplies as she always has, Wehe said, but was left with just $25 for the rest of the semester.
“I’m already at my limit for the semester, as far as money goes,” said Wehe, one day before classes began at Bella Vista.
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