ALICE at the Pawnshop


            New Orleans      Not sure why, but every once in a while, our faithful newspaper home delivery carrier drops off a USA Today.  It’s easy to forget that paper even exists except when you see if for free on hotel counters or somewhere, but I guess some people subscribe.  I think she’s just comping me a substitute for a Wall Street Journal that didn’t make it off the plane because of weather somewhere.  Who knows?  Usually, it’s a fast trip to the recycling bin, but a headline about pawnshops caught my eye entitled “Pawnshop economy tells a bigger story,” because I believe the metrics in this part of the cash-and-carry financial world of working ALICE or Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed families is actually pretty important.

The topline on most financial reports indicate that things are getting better.  Inflation is lower and perhaps under control.  Gas prices are near reasonable.  Food prices are steadying.  Unemployment is pushing near historic lows.  The stock market is soaring.  For some people, this is nothing but the good times, but those times are not evening out for everybody. For a lot of ALICE families, survival is “pawn to pawn.”

As the USA Today tells the story pretty clearly:

Loans typically last 30 to 90 days. But right now, customers are pawning and not coming back to reclaim their rings or belt buckles. “Pawn balances have risen across the country in the past two years, said Laura Wasileski, spokeswoman for the National Pawnbrokers Association. The reasons, she said, include “cost-of-living increases, the lack of access to credit, short-term emergencies, and the fact that 50% of American households do not have $1,000 in savings to cover those emergencies.”

For these workers and families, credit is a problem, which fuels the business model for payday lenders and pawnshops, where people go who need a little extra cash to make rent or utilities, put gas in the car, get to work or whatever.

Nearly 6 million, or 4.5%, of households in the U.S. had no bank account in 2021, according to the latest survey data available from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the agency that insures the banking system. People of color, those with less education, lower incomes, disabilities and single-mother households were more likely to lack bank access, according to the FDIC.  A fifth of survey respondents said they didn’t keep a bank account because they didn’t have enough money to meet the minimum balance requirements ‒ often $100 to a few hundred dollars.

This is a big country, but add 6 million with money under the mattress – if they have one — and other millions at payday lenders and pawnshops, and it adds up to real numbers that can make a difference in both the national economy and national politics, if the big whoops don’t pay attention and develop policies that make something better soon.