Back-to-school spending is expected to hit a record level as inflation soars.  'It's kind of adding up now.'

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

Sebastian She bought most of her kids’ supplies, including coloring and craft supplies for her first-grader, Bruno, and graph paper and a protractor for her fourth-grader, Ophelia, at Target. When she couldn’t find a flexible folder that Bruno needed, she ventured into using OfficeMax. Thinking the Post-it notes would be cheaper there, she put the Target ones back on the shelf.

Sebastian, who lives in the Lathrop Homes neighborhood, estimates that he has spent about $200 on school supplies for his children. And he still hasn’t bought new backpacks or uniforms, which are necessary in his children’s Chicago Public Schools classrooms. School starts on August 22 this year, the earliest first day in years.

“It’s adding up now,” he said.

The Consumer Price Index reached 9.1% in June as Chicagoans continued to deal with sky-high prices for everything from food to gasoline. Now, back-to-school costs are piling up, too.

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

Sebastian sometimes buys more items than his own children need and sends 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 certain clothing from August 5 to August 14 will benefit from a state sales tax exemption that will reduce the rate from 6.25% to 1.25%.

But back-to-school costs remain a burden for many families, said employees at nonprofits that serve children.

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

“That has 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 of the school supplies will go to Illinois kids, she said; The organization, which used to be known as Back 2 School Illinois, recently expanded beyond the state.

Back 2 School America works with a variety of community partners, such as the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, to bring school supplies to children in need.

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 the large corporations that sponsor school supplies with the nonprofit have taken note of the increased need and have stepped up to help.

The nonprofit Cradles to Crayons Chicago has also seen an increased need this year for the free school supplies it provides to students in Chicago-area elementary schools, according to executive director Dawn Melchiorre.

The organization plans to provide 70,000 backpacks of supplies, up from 60,000 last year. Most of the backpacks will be distributed by the 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 or reduced-price lunches, Melchiorre said.

“Demand has definitely increased,” he said.

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

At the same time, a third of parents nationally, and a similar proportion in Chicago, said their family’s family situation had gotten worse since last year. (In 2021, only 15% of Chicago parents and 22% of parents nationally said that was the case.) This year, nearly 60% of parents surveyed said they were concerned about rising costs for back-to-school supplies due to inflation.

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

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

While many parents said they were concerned items would be out of stock, executives at companies like Kohl’s, Shoe Carnival and Tillys assured investors that inventory issues and shortages won’t be an issue this year.

Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass said at 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 chase mode in an environment where it was very difficult to chase,” Gass said, noting that the company had planned last year’s season conservatively and found itself short on product in certain areas, including the of the kids. “So, we have corrected that of course.”

Adams said he didn’t expect supply chain issues to be as big an issue as they were last year.

“Some of the issues that we saw in terms of production and shipping have been resolved, but also, retailers have invested in their supply chains to address concerns, I think, a little bit more proactively,” he said.

Even before the pandemic, the cost of school supplies was a burden on low-income families, said Jan Waters, director of clinical services programs at Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides services to children who have experienced abuse. The center holds an annual backpack drive 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, he said.

“They have all the things that we’ve always needed traditionally, but now they’ve also added hand sanitizer, tissues and baby wipes,” he said.

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

“Families are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic and the disruptions that they had — loss of life, loss of income,” Waters said.

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