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Spending on Footwear Indicative of Larger Wealth Gap

Spending on footwear was down last year, but a closer look at the numbers reveals a telling split among shoppers of different income levels.

In a new report, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) explored why average spending on footwear among Americans dropped between 2014 and 2015.

Citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Consumer Expenditure Survey, FDRA says American shoppers spent $367 on footwear on average in 2014, the highest level in 30 years, up 19.5% from the year prior. But Americans spent less on shoes in 2015—just $354 on average.

“As one may expect, higher-income Americans tend to spend more on footwear while lower-income households naturally spend less,” said FDRA in its report. “What is interesting within this fact is how spending evolved last year between different income thresholds.”

It turns out that the rich are indeed getting richer, or at least spending more money on shoes. Spending on footwear among high-earning individuals (the top 20 percent in the Consumer Expenditure Survey) climbed to its highest level in 30 years, up to $753 on average, an 8.7% bump over 2014.

Spending on footwear among those with low incomes, however, fell to its lowest level in 21 years. Among those in the bottom 20 percent of earners, spending fell to just $133.

But income wasn’t the only differentiating factor driving sales of shoes. FDRA also examined spending on footwear by age, race and location.

In 2015, middle-aged shoppers continued to drive retail footwear demand, with the typical middle-aged shopper (aged 35-44), spending a record $545 on shoes in 2015, up for the fourth time in five years. Among all shoppers, those aged 35-54 outspent all other age groups by a significant margin, while spending among all other age groups either declined or remained flat.

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“The implication is that middle-aged shoppers who typically spend more per capita than other age groups now are spending even more relative to other age groups than normal,” said FDRA.

Location mattered too. While spending on shoes by city-dwellers has historically outpaced spending by those in rural or suburban locations, in 2015 spending by those living in city centers dropped by roughly 20 percent from the year prior, to just $305 on average, the second-lowest sum in a dozen years. This came as spending by suburban shoppers hit a record high, up to $398 on average in 2015.

In terms of geography, those who lived in the nation’s West spent more on footwear than those who lived anywhere else. While footwear spending is typically lead by those who live in the Northeast (the Northeast led the country in household footwear spending in 19 of the last 30 years), spending by western shoppers hit a 30-year high in 2015, up to $412 on average.

In terms of race, those who identified as Hispanic or Latino lead spending on footwear among all race groups: $452 on average. At the same time, spending among Asians and African Americas fell to record lows in 2015, to $359 and $330 on average, respectively. This came as footwear spending by Whites eclipsed spending by African Americas for the first time on record, to an all-time high $357 on average.

“To conclude in broad terms, the Consumer Expenditure Survey indicates 2015 saw footwear spending grow most impressively in households that tended to be Hispanic, wealthier, western, suburban, and have more wage earners than in other households,” noted FDRA. “While there are of course myriad exceptions to these broad trends, an awareness of these trends can help [footwear brands and retailers] operate their businesses more efficiently, effectively, and profitably.”