4.5 Years after the Recession, Low- and Middle-Income Families are Still Hurting (Retail Sales Edition)

Just last week, Walmart made headlines with a weak forecast for profits and sales at US stores. Low- and middle-income families are the core of Walmart’s customer base, and they are still struggling more than four-and-a-half years since the official end of the recession.

“The world’s largest retailer, which gets more than half its sales from groceries, on Thursday gave a disappointing full-year forecast. It blamed sharp cuts in food stamp benefits and higher payroll taxes that will hit disposable income for its core customers. Wal-Mart shares fell 2.2 percent in morning trading.”

Reuters, February 20, 2014

Retail sales data originating with Maine Revenue Services and compiled by the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management illustrate the broader story here in Maine. Statewide retail sales are growing, but not at stores where typical low- and middle-income Maine families make day-to-day purchases. Sales of building supplies and automobiles have experienced solid growth since the end of the recession, but sales at grocery stores and “general merchandise” stores like Walmart have not.


Of course, many low- and middle-income families may be taking advantage of low interest rates to buy building supplies and automobiles on credit. But the stores where they make day-to-day out-of-pocket purchases have seen very little sales growth at all over the past four years. Remember, the figures shown in the chart above aren’t adjusted for inflation.

The recession ended more than four-and-a-half years ago, but we can add this to the mountain of evidence that low- and middle-income families are still hurting.