How the ‘Big Funeral’ made the afterlife so expensive

“You can’t die These days because it’s expensive,” Randy Hinojosa Tell time last year. Hinojosa had just paid $15,000 for the funeral of his 26-year-old wife, after she died from the coronavirus. Like thousands of families dealing with unexpected pandemic funeral costs, he exhausted his savings and Launched Crowdfunding campaign to make up for some losses. “I didn’t even want to ask anyone for money,” said Hinojosa, weeping. “I had this pride because I could do this.”

The pandemic, which has killed 690,000 Americans and counted, has magnified the importance of quick action and respect for the dead — and the unaffordable cost of doing business in the current system. In 2019, the average funeral cost was $9135, According to the National Funeral Directors Association. This included viewing and burial, but not the dwindling cemetery space or expensive items such as monuments and other grave markers. Even cremation, promoted for decades as a cheaper (and greener) alternative to burial, is now averages $6,645.

These practices are not only financially devastating, but also environmentally disastrous. In addition to human remains, traditional burial places a burial estimated 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete and 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde – a chemical used in embalming and a possible carcinogen – are in the ground each year. Cremation, meanwhile, is born estimated 534.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per capita – more than Afghanistan’s emissions per capita.

He says these harsh end-of-life economics have contributed to the funeral poverty crisis in the United States Victoria J. HahnemannHe is a professor at Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska. Funeral poverty existed long before the pandemic, and without major reforms to both the funeral industry and the national and local systems of funeral assistance, many families will continue to struggle with mounting credit card debt and new personal loans amid their overwhelming grief.

In the worst-case scenario, people will be forced to leave their loved ones unclaimed in county custody, where mayors, medical examiners, social workers, chaplains and others will cremate or bury their remains. In the United States, up to 3% of the bodies It is left unclaimed every year, a number that has risen due to economic inequality, the opioid epidemic, and the pandemic.

Although the United States has the resources to ensure that everyone is properly buried, they are not evenly distributed. “We shouldn’t print $9,000 as the average funeral cost,” Hahnemann says. “It’s not only amazing, it’s totally unnecessary.”

For most American history, people died at home, where loved ones cared for them. The women in society prepare the body, while the men make the coffin. That began to change with the Civil War, as death occurred on distant battlefields. Adventurers of the later rockeries mummification common, a preservation technique that allowed families to ship bodies over long distances so that those who died could be buried where they lived.

Today, death is A $20 billion industry. (This is similar to Total revenue For global music business in 2019, or market Meat alternatives.) in its most institutional and cynical forms, it is marked by largely unrestricted prices, including high price spreads such as 500 percent on the boxes. It is also defined by decades of resistance to innovation, even General attitudes toward death they turn. In 2015, for example, one funeral group estimated That for every 1 percent of its customers who chose cremation, the company lost about $10 million — a “problem” some mortuaries are trying to solve by selling often-unnecessary services and products to families, from embalming before cremation to urns. Expensive.

Where many communities were once served by small mom-and-pop funeral stores, the landscape of death care by shareholder-led businesses has changed. Service Corporation International is the largest provider of funeral services in North America, with more than 1,500 funeral homes and 500 cemeteries in its portfolio, representing approx. 16 percent of the total market share. Rather than cutting prices as they escalated, SCI’s average prices are 47 to 72 percent higher than those of its competitors, according to 2017 report It was co-authored by the Funeral Consumers Coalition. The only people who don’t seem to mind are the investors whose shares have gone up 151 percent more than five years. Thanks to the efforts of Big Funeral, the industry has a monopoly on the afterlife – and it makes people die.

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