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Back To School Season Highlights Heavy Burden of Tariffs on Families and Students

For many parents, the end of August means back-to-school shopping. Parents forced to drag children desperate to hang on to the last few days of summer vacation down shopping aisles may dread this experience, but this year may be an even less fun experience than usual.

Under Presidents Trump and Biden, the average U.S. tariff rate has more than doubled. These tariffs impose a hidden tax on families and increase the price of many goods students may need as they return to the classroom.

Tariffs on back-to-school goods like shoes and clothing are especially high. Many of these tariffs were intended to protect U.S. manufacturers and workers from imported products. Though tariffs have failed spectacularly at that goal, they still manage to increase prices for consumers. According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, 98 percent of clothes and shoes purchased in the United States are imported. In 2020, the average tariff rate on imported apparel and footwear was 13.9 percent.

The attached infographic shows how import taxes affect the price of many products students may need as they head back to school. The tariff rates are based on 2020 customs value and calculated duties data from the U.S. International Trade Commission. Actual rates may vary based on the tariff classification for each good.

Calculations for the infographic can be found here.

The infographic was prepared by John Babcock, whose father Michael Babcock was an economics professor at Kansas State University when Bryan Riley, director of NTU Foundation’s Free Trade Initiative, attended K-State.