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The Press and Economic Lessons

August 23, 2010

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press ran as a feature story in the Business section an article entitled, “Intro to Economics.” The basic premise of the article was that since retailers were too optimistic about teen clothing sales they over ordered in the Spring, so now the prices have drooped, which is supposedly good for consumers.

The article speaks to a few teens and a few parents, some which were happy that they were able to “only” spend $500 on their kids for back to school clothing. Besides the consumer input the article also sourced a retail analyst who doesn’t really add anything to the story.

Much of the story was actually a promotional piece for several national clothing retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch and Aeropostale. The Press reporter even tells readers which area malls have these teen clothing deals and what the prices are for some of the items. This is common practice with the Press as we have noted before and in another recent story on back to school shopping.

The print version of the story is accompanied by 4 pictures, all of shoppers in front of stores or teens trying on clothing. These images add to the basic economic message of the Press story, which tries to frame the article as pro-consumer. However, the pictures and the article seriously omit important economic elements of the clothing industry.

First, there is no mention of where most of the clothing sold in chains stores is made. Knowing that the bulk of clothing that Americans buy is made outside of the country’s borders would be a useful bit of information in communicating the economics of the retail industry.

Second, readers are not made aware of the realities that garment works around the world, many of whom are teenagers themselves. According to the National Labor Committee (NLC), young women in Bangladesh make as little as 11 cents an hour at beginning wages making jeans. The NLC reports that women make an estimated 2 cents for every pair of jeans they sew.

Many of these young women in Bangladesh are now organizing to get a more just wage, a campaign that was recently endorsed by both US and British unions. Adding this kind of information would surely qualify as an Intro to Economics, and would probably resonate with teenagers and their parents who might be interested in more than the price tag.

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