Recession leaves more bodies left unburied


The recession is hitting everyone hard -- even the dead.

Or at least the surviving relatives of the deceased.

Several large counties are having unprecedented increases in the number of unclaimed bodies, partly because more people can't afford to bury or cremate their loved ones, according to a Time story on Yahoo.

Local governments, which must dispose of the bodies, are picking up the tab.

"People were picking the bodies up last year," said Albert Samuels, chief investigator at the medical examiner's office in Wayne County, Mich., in the Time story. "Across the board, I'm finding the numbers are on the rise of either families who are not coming forward to claim bodies or they're signing releases saying they can't afford to bury someone, which taxes the county resources because then the county is responsible for burying these people."

The Los Angeles County coroner's office has seen the number of bodies unclaimed by families for cremation or burial increase because of economic hardship, leading to the department doing 36% more cremations in the past fiscal year -- 712 compared to 525 the previous year.

Planning a funeral is difficult, and not being able to afford to bury or cremate a family member must be especially difficult. And even for people who had a loved one buried, you're not always safe in the knowledge that they're resting in peace -- as in the case of cemetery workers digging up bodies in Alsip, Ill., so the burial plots could be resold.

Buying your own pine box to be buried in can be inexpensive at around $250, and backyard burials are becoming more popular, according to a New York Time story. Just check with your local government officials to see if burial on your property is legal. Cremation can cost a few hundred dollars.

A funeral with burial is expensive, averaging $7,323. And that doesn't include cemetery, monument or marker costs.

In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, it costs $750 to bury an unclaimed decedent in a potter's grave in Western Wayne County, Samuels said. The county will pay the cost if the state declines to help.

With the auto industry in such poor shape and Michigan hurting in the recession with some of the highest unemployment in the country at 15.2%, I wouldn't want to bet on the state being able to afford burial costs.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at