Americans turning to ‘modern layaway’ to afford basics
(NewsNation) — More than a third of working Americans don’t have enough money to cover their most basic household needs, including housing, food and childcare, according to a new study.
Researchers at Brandeis University found that 35% of American families do not meet the “basic family needs budget” — the amount needed to afford rent, food, transportation, medical care and minimal household expenses — despite working full-time year-round.
The situation is dire among working Black and Hispanic families, more than 50% of whom cannot afford the basics. A quarter of white families and 23% of Asian and Pacific Islander families are struggling to make rent and buy food, despite holding down full-time jobs.
Abby Walters, a research associate for the Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy, is one of three researchers who conducted the study. She said this is a long-standing issue that many working families have known for a long time.
“Our study was conducted using data prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the historic inflation that we’ve seen. So families were struggling even before this time,” Walters said. “It’s important to note that this basic needs that we consider is higher than the poverty level, but still doesn’t include many things that people consider essential to the American dream, like saving for a house or simpler pleasures, like being able to take your child out for a birthday.”
Walters said many families are now relying on and supplementing their income with government transfers, or facing significant housing and food insecurity while having difficulty making sure that they provide all of the resources needed to support their child’s healthy development.
Walters said resolving this issue is bigger than “just giving people more money.” Here are three things she recommends be done to combat this issue:
- Working families need a raise. This can be done through several mechanisms — employers can start paying their workers more, or Americans can rely on government transfers, like the child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Another thing that can be done is to help lower the cost of necessary expenses like housing and food.
- It’s important Americans invest in policies supporting work and families, like paid family and medical leave and an affordable childcare system.
Meanwhile, more Americans are turning to payday loans and “buy now, pay later” plans to afford everyday basics.
In March, Klarna, a buy-now-pay-later company, started rolling out payment plans at gas stations, and that trend has continued to grow.
A study by Harvard University found more Americans are using modern versions of layaway to cover the cost of groceries and meals.
Nearly $46 billion in pay-later transactions were made last year — three times the amount in 2020. Last year, food accounted for just 6% of those purchases.
Fast forward to this year, Zip says its seen a 95% growth in grocery transactions.
Klarna says more than half of the 100 most purchased items are grocery and household staples.
Zilch says groceries and restaurant charges make up nearly 40% of all its transactions.
A July report done by Fitch Ratings found that most buy now, pay later customers are economically vulnerable, and around 40% have a poor credit history.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is … these companies market themselves as basically an interest-free loan, but missed payments and late fees can even go above and beyond what you’d pay in interest on a credit card.
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