Memo|Economy   4 Minute Read

Trade Blues: How Trump Hurts Your Back-to-School Shopping List

Published August 24, 2016

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This year, Americans will spend about $75 billion on back-to-school items, up from last year’s $68 billion.1 This includes $19.8 billion on electronics such as computers and calculators, $7.9 billion on school supplies from folders to lunchboxes, and $17 billion on clothes. Back to school is the second biggest consumer spending season, after only winter holiday spending.2 And with Republican nominee Donald Trump’s plan to slap tariffs of 45% on Chinese goods and 35% on Mexican goods, our first and third largest trade partners, back-to-school shopping would get much more expensive for American consumers.3

We’ve already shown that Trump’s tariffs could cost you an additional $163 on a Memorial Day weekend, and 10 typical Father’s Day presents would cost an additional $336. But how much more would a family’s back-to-school spending be?

We looked at 10 back-to-school products that a typical American family might buy, ranging from a computer to a few notebooks. With Trump’s tariffs, these 10 items will be $298 more expensive.

  Total Unit Cost at
U.S. Border
Tab Before Trump (Markup + 6.9% Tax) Tab After Trump (Markup + Tariff + 6.9% Tax)
1 Computer $375.67 $1,204.77 $1,385.49
1 Printer $195.02 $625.43 $719.24
2 Pairs of Jeans $15.44 $49.52 $56.94
2 Shirts $12.78 $40.99 $47.13
5 Notebooks $3.85 $12.35 $14.20
1 Backpack $3.70 $11.87 $13.65
1 Calculator $2.76 $8.85 $10.18
5 Binders      $6.90 $22.13 $25.45
12 Pens $2.64 $8.47 $9.74
12 Pencils $0.60 $1.92 $2.21
Total   $1,986.29 $2,284.23

The total added cost of Trump’s tariffs on your back-to-school shopping could cost nearly $300.

Here’s how we put this together: We calculated the average unit cost of these products as they hit the U.S. border and before retail markup, based on public data from the U.S. International Trade Commission.4 Drawing on a formula from a Progressive Economy study, we assumed that the final store price of each good is roughly triple the unit cost (also called “landed cost”), and we then added state sales tax. We then looked at how Trump’s 45% tariffs on Chinese imports increase the unit cost of each of these products as they hit the U.S. shore. We assumed current import levels, noting that while foreign production may move to other countries (say from China to Vietnam) to reduce costs, that may be easier said than done and would take time. Also, China is one of the top global manufacturers for all of these items. In addition, for this paper, we assumed 100% of the tariff would be applied to the product and applied before retail markup, but we do not include this increased tariff in the calculation that is generally used for retail markup.

Conclusion

Raising a kid is hard enough. American families with children in grades K-12 spend $674 on back-to-school items, while families with college-aged children spend $889.5 Trump’s response? He would add an additional $298 to the bill. And keep this in mind: the average American gets paid about $25 per hour.6Given that Trump’s tariffs will make these items $298 more expensive, the average worker would have to put in one and a half more days of work to afford the exact same goods.

Trump has said that the core purpose of his economic and trade policy is to help Americans. Too bad his tariffs don’t pass that test.

  1. Ana Serafin Smith, “Back-to-School and College Spending to Reach $75.8 Billion,” National Retail Federation, July 21, 2016. Accessed August 11, 2016. Available at: https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/back-school-and-college-spending-reach-758-billion.

  2. Ana Serafin Smith, “Back-to-School and College Spending to Reach $75.8 Billion,” National Retail Federation, July 21, 2016. Accessed August 11, 2016. Available at: https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/back-school-and-college-spending-reach-758-billion.

  3. Bob Davis, “How Trump’s Hard Line on Trade Could Backfire,” The Wall Street Journal, March 24, 2016. Accessed August 10, 2016. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-trumps-hard-line-on-trade-could-backfire-1458848243; See also: Jim Tankersley, “Donald Trump’s Trade War Could Kill Millions of U.S. Jobs,” The Washington Post, March 25, 2016. Accessed August 10, 2016. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/03/25/donald-trumps-trade-war-could-kill-millions-of-u-s-jobs/.

  4. Authors’ calculations based on HS code data from the USITC Dataweb. Value and quantity were analyzed for goods that arrive from China to determine an average unit cost. A full dataset can be made available.

  5. Ana Serafin Smith, “Back-to-School and College Spending to Reach $75.8 Billion,” National Retail Federation, July 21, 2016. Accessed August 11, 2016. Available at: https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/back-school-and-college-spending-reach-758-billion.

  6. United States, Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table B-3. Average hourly and weekly earnings of all employees on private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted,” Dataset, August 5, 2016. Accessed August 11, 2016. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t19.htm.

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