Is layaway the answer to America's credit woes?

Sarah Gilbert

In the news for August: Layaway is back, with camera crews and NPR pundits variously highlighting and panning racks full of bags of school supplies, laid away until the next payday or unemployment check. And I am suspicious; is this the answer to America's credit woes? I doubt it. In fact, it could be just one more bonehead financial move by the American populace.

I may only be 35, but I am old enough to have observed an astonishing cycle in American consumer spending habits; one that will certainly be studied by economists and social anthropologists for decades. Though credit cards were invented in 1946, it was not until 1966 that the card we know today -- the general-purpose credit card that could be used nationally -- was launched by Bank of America (BAC), in a separate brand that would later become Visa. And even that did not become commonly used by the lower-income and middle-class consumers until the 1980s. Before that? There was layaway.

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