HOUSTON—At midnight on the first of the month, a scene unfolds at many Wal-Mart Stores Inc. sites that underscores the deep financial strains that many low-income American consumers still face.
Parking lots come to life after 11 p.m. as customers start to stream into the stores, cramming their shopping carts full of milk, infant formula and other necessities.
Then at midnight, when the government replenishes their electronic-benefit accounts with their monthly allotments of food stamps, nutritional grants for mothers with babies or other aid for needy families, they head for the registers.
"We're not starving or anything, but we come every month at 11:55," said Tyrel Fogle, 26 years old, early Friday morning as he loaded a cart with frozen food at a Wal-Mart here on the northwestern edge of the nation's fourth largest city.
Mr. Fogle said he had just found work as a washer at a glass company after months of fruitless searching. "We have enough to survive," volunteered his pregnant girlfriend, Brittany Cummings, 21. "But not much more."
The midnight scenes, which also play out at Kroger Co., the nation's largest supermarket chain, and other 24-hour stores, indicate that many Americans are still living from pay period to pay period, unemployed or underemployed two years after the recession took hold. More at: