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America's Great Christmas Divide

Dec 13, 2010

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Reported by

Scott Cameron

The meaning of Christmas often changes with the state of the economy. This year, there's a strange divide. The recession is formally finished but still hangs like a ghost of Christmas past over millions of families who can't afford gifts or a roof over their heads. At the same time, upscale retailers are reporting big jumps in sales as those shoppers who can afford it shrug off months — if not years — of holding back and worrying about money.

Ylan Mui described the divide in a timely piece in the Washington Post over the weekend:

This tale of two Christmases is being played out from the shopping mall to the kitchen table. At Towson Town Center outside Baltimore, sales are exceeding expectations in the mall's new wing of luxury retailers such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany's, executives said. But Miriam Pap of Baltimore City has never stepped inside those stores, even though she often works a few feet away, selling Auntie Anne's pretzels at a small cart at the entrance to the hallway.

"We don't have the money," Pap said on a recent afternoon, as she served up samples of cinnamon raisin to shoppers juggling Nordstrom bags and baby strollers.

Pap, 24, said she does plan to spend more this holiday season - only for bills, not on gifts for her daughter in Guatemala and definitely not on shopping for herself. Food, gas, even drycleaning seems to be more expensive, she said. This Christmas, she plans to work and feels lucky to do so.

What's driving the divide? Mui explains that the high level of unemployment hit hardest among those with less education and lower salaries. "The jobless rate for workers without a high school diploma is 15.7 percent - well above the national average and triple the rate for college graduates, according to government data."

You can read her full article at the Post's site.

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