retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The National Retail Federation (NRF) is out with a new study saying that “54 percent of consumers overall plan to spend about the same” during the upcoming end-of-year holiday shopping season “as last year, with 24 percent planning to spend more. But among those ages 18-24 — which includes the oldest members of Generation Z — 46 percent say they will spend more than last year. The next-closest group was those aged 25-34 years old, with 39 percent planning to spend more.”
KC's View:
I always find these kinds of studies to be interesting. Sure, 46 percent of people aged 18-24 plan to spend more during the holidays this year, but that means that 54 percent plan to spend the same or less. And 39 percent of people aged 25-34 say they’ll spend more, but 61 percent will spend the same or less.

These results don’t strike me as being overwhelmingly encouraging.

On the other hand, maybe it is a good thing that a lot of these young folks are planning to save their money, or at least not spend it on holiday presents.

I was reading a piece yesterday in the New York Times about how the tax reform package passed by the US House of Representatives will tax the value of college tuition benefits. This will impact graduate and doctoral students, for example, who often see tuition waived or reduced in exchange for working on campus as teaching assistants and researchers. And, it’ll affect families where kids are able to go to college at reduced cost because their parents work at the school; the Times offered an anecdote about Fred Vautour, who scrubbed toilets and cleaned classrooms at Boston College so his five children could go there for almost nothing.

Now, these students may have to pay taxes on those benefits - which could stop them from going to school because they don’t have the money, or force them to take on onerous loans that will have an enormous impact on their futures. (The Times also writes that “under the House bill, interest paid on student loans — a deduction that more than 12 million people used in 2015 — would no longer be tax deductible.)

I’ve seen a lot of press releases the last few days from retail and CPG-centric associations lauding the tax reform bill, but I have to wonder if they are being a little short-sighted on this one.

I personally can think of no better investment for this country than figuring out ways to help more people to go to college. I’m not talking free-lunch Bernie Sanders stuff here, but I do think that these kinds of provisions could have the wrong sort of impact. The greater the financial burdens these students take on, the less money they’ll have to spend on consumables - expenditures that have a real impact on the economy. The greater the financial burdens these students take on, the longer they will delay doing things like getting married, buying cars and houses, and having children - which are all things that pump money into the economy. The greater the financial burdens these students face, the more likely it will be that they will not go to college, or will choose less expensive paths that may not afford them the opportunities to contribute to society.

Now, maybe tax reform actually will result in less-taxed corporations hiring more people and paying them more, though I’ve expressed a certain skepticism about that elsewhere on MNB. But this is a gamble, and even if it pays off it isn’t going to pay off overnight. And I worry about how much human capital could be lost in the shuffle.