Did you know more people are buying groceries between midnight and 6 a.m. than ever before? Sadly ‘tis true. Matter of fact, the demand has become so great that Walmart is now keeping many of its stores open round- the-clock to accommodate them.

And who are these new shoppers? That’s where the “sadly” comes in. Seems many of them are people who never considered shopping day OR night at Walmart in the past but now – because of major changes in personal income or maybe unemployment – they’re “Walmart shoppers” for the first time in their lives. And they’re coming in late – very late – because they don’t want to be seen at Walmart by friends or co-workers or someone from church during normal hours. A conflict of reduced purchasing power and pride.

More bad economic news. Millions of kids in the country – from what we have previously considered solidly middle-class families – are now receiving free or low-cost meals at schools for the first time. In 11 states, the numbers are up by more than 24% in four years. Many states are way over the 50% level in the same period.

To be eligible, families must have incomes lower than 130% of the poverty level – $29,055 for a family of four – for federal food. Nationwide, the number of school-age children in families eligible for the program stands at 14 million in the current year; up two million in just 12 months.

Nearly ever school district across the country has seen more kids coming into the cafeterias. One district in Conyers, GA, has reached 62 percent of enrollment. This national program now costs nearly $11 billion, putting out 32 million lunches, 21 million of them free or at reduced charge.

So where is the new demand coming from? Well, in Rochester, N.Y., it may be from the family of formerly well-paid industrial engineers and technicians laid off at Eastman Kodak. In Las Vegas, 15,000 new lunch students this year came from families of construction workers without jobs for the first time.

In Oregon and Washington, more kids are being fed because of timber layoffs and mills closed or running on reduced shifts with fewer workers.. Even kids from families of fishermen on the coast now out of work. And, of course, from families where a small business has gone under.

In other words, subsidized lunches are being fed to hundreds of thousands of kids whose parents never thought they’d be relying on hard-pressed school districts. And for many of these students, administrators say, these school meals may be the only food some kids get on the average day.

A small Rotary club in our neighborhood has a weekend feeding program for kids from families really hurting. Using several dozen identical, unmarked backpacks, members fill ‘em with canned goods or dry foods. Kids come to a special location Friday afternoon, pick up what may be the only food they get for the weekend, then drop the packs off Monday.

There’s another not-often reported bad change in today’s economy. For the past three years – since things went sour – people have used debit cards more and credit cards less. They paid cash and reduced their debt. Those are good things. But, in the last four months, there’s a complete turn-around. More credit use being reported; less debit. Many economists think that’s because the long-term unemployed and the under-employed have used up cash reserves and are now living on credit. Creating debt to pay debt is never – never – good. But, apparently, that’s what’s happening.

These kinds of economic stories don’t get much media attention. Some free school lunches here and there – Walmart accommodating embarrassed shoppers from midnight to dawn – a little Rotary club making sure a few dozen kids get food between Friday and Monday – more people paying for living expenses by credit instead of cash – nothing sexy or salacious or of much interest to the always-talking-heads. So we don’t hear much about it.

But it’s happening. It’s happening in all our neighborhoods. If you want to see proof, drop by your Walmart grocery department between midnight and six. Might see someone you know.

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