Recession Affecting Funeral Directors

By Staff

April 6, 2009

Even the funeral business, which many consider to be recession-proof, is feeling the effects of the economic downturn.

The Miami Herald reports that according to a survey by the National Funeral Directors Association, more consumers are opting for cremations, less expensive caskets and wakes, and shorter viewing periods. Other funeral homes around the country are cutting back on expenses by doing in-house laundry, conserving gas by grouping errands together, and delaying purchasing new hearses.

"Our profession's different from a lot of retail professions," noted Jim Mumaw, funeral director at Mumaw Funeral Home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "When things get slow you can't go out and have a sidewalk sale to bring people in."

In Florida, Riverside Memorial Chapel has discontinued all lawn care service, and employees clean their own offices. Fred Hunter's Funeral Homes switched light bulbs to compact fluorescent bulbs. And at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn, overtime has been cut significantly.

Charleston, South Carolina's The Post and Courier reports that more than two-thirds of funerals in Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii now involve cremation, which significantly cuts down on funeral expenses. Dennis Werner, a spokesman for the Cremation Association of North America, noted that as a result of the economic downturn, he expects cremation rates to rise sharply this year.

The average cost of a funeral in 2006 was $6,195, not including a vault, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Some funeral directors are lowering their prices in an effort to persuade customers to consider traditional funerals. Toledo, Ohio's The Blade reports that John Dowling, who recently opened up the Dowling Funeral Home, installed an electronic billboard comparing his funeral price of $1,995 to two competitors.

"I'm trying to get the price low enough so people want to go back to a traditional funeral," he explained.

The Blade notes that during these difficult economic times, more customers are having trouble paying for funerals. Sometimes people counting on employer-provided life insurance to cover funeral expenses are laid off shortly before their deaths. Other times, families tell funeral directors that they cannot pay until the house is sold.

The Washington Post reports on the National Funeral Directors Association's annual gathering, which took place in Washington last week. There, funeral directors attempted to bring attention to the economic hardships that funeral homes are currently facing.

"The thing about death and taxes being a certainty - it's not true, obviously," said Chris Raymond, an official with the association.

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