NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Clothing Purchases Indicate Prosperity

July 19, 1999

Americans have been buying -- and casting off -- mountains of clothing, just one more indicator of the booming U.S. economy. One result is that tons of clothes, some with the price tags still attached, are being left off at Salvation Army centers and other charity operations.

Clothing has become increasingly affordable, not having kept up with inflation. So fewer Americans are making or mending their wardrobes anymore. This has prompted the Bureau of Labor Statistics to move sewing machines from the category of "apparel and upkeep" to "recreation."

  • Americans bought 17.2 billion articles of clothing in 1998 -- a 16 percent increase over 1993.
  • Clothing prices have risen just 13 percent in a decade, while the average for all consumer goods rose 34 percent.
  • Americans gave the Salvation Army alone several hundred million pieces -- well over 100,000 tons.
  • The organization culls out the undamaged clothes and gives them to the poor or sells them at thrift shops -- while the remainder are bound into 1,100 lb. bales and sold to rag dealers, who then ship them to countries like Yemen and Senegal.

No one in the United States need ever go without being properly dressed, observes a Salvation Army official.

Few children will settle for their older siblings cast-offs any more and elementary school principals routinely complain of overflowing lost-and-founds.

Clothing recycling has spawned a little-noticed new industry. At Salvation Army centers, welfare recipients are used to sort the clothes and process them -- and then are feed, housed and trained for other work at the organization's rehabilitation operations.

Source: Peter T. Kilborn, "Prosperity Builds Mounds of Cast-Off Clothes," New York Times, July 19, 1999.


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