COVID scrambles back to school economy

What families buy--and when--affected
Posted at 7:08 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 22:08:47-04

TUCSON, Ariz - COVID-19 is changing nearly every aspect of our lives, and that includes how we get kids ready to go back to school.

But how could back to school spending be affected by the uncertain future of classroom learning?

In the normal rhythm of life, people would be getting ready for back to school. You know how things are far from normal now. And now the whole economy of back to school is being turned upside down.

If this were a normal time Jonathan’s Educational Resources on Stone near Fort Lowell would be packed with teachers prepping for the first day of school.

Jonathan Katz has sold teacher supplies there for thirty-three years. He says this back to school period is very different.

“This is typically our Christmas season in July, and people are…they're just apprehensive about going back to school.”

Jonathan and Marsha Katz say pushing back the first day of school may also be pushing back those purchases. The other effect they see is parents buying supplies for home, so kids can be in remote learning and still have at least part of the hands-on experience they’d have in a classroom.

Remote learning has the National Retail Federation predicting record spending for back to school---almost 34 billion dollars for Kindergarten through High School

A Federation survey found 63 percent of K through 12 families expect to buy computers or other electronics. It was 54 percent last year. That kicks average spending to almost 275 dollars compared to roughly 203 for 2019.

But the economic impact of how and when schools open casts a long shadow over the entire economy.

University of Arizona Economist George Hammond says if kids stay home to learn, that affects how productive parents may be if they’re working from home. And could affect their ability to work at all.

“If their occupation is kind of a face to face, sort of job if they need to be home with the kids because school isn’t open, and that's going to make it harder for them to go back to work.”

But Hammond agrees a lot of back to school spending will happen whatever form school takes because families are equipping for the new styles of learning and growing kids will always need new clothes.