What it Costs to Die

Source: Liz Farmer, Mattie Quinn, Governing, June 2019

Funerals have become a luxury that many Americans can’t afford. Cities and counties are paying the price….

…..What’s happening in Henry County is playing out in places across the country. Rising funeral costs and a lagging economy have made it increasingly hard for many low-income Americans to pay the necessary expenses to dispose of a body. The average cost of a funeral today is $7,400, a price tag that’s risen nearly twice as fast as inflation since the 1980s. (That cost doesn’t include flowers, obituaries and gravesite fees that can tack on another couple thousand dollars.) At a time when 40 percent of Americans can’t even afford an unexpected expense of just $400, according to the Federal Reserve, the notion of a proper funeral and burial has become, for many people, an unattainable luxury.

When family members can’t afford to claim a body, the burden falls on local governments to handle the remains. There’s no comprehensive data on the number of unclaimed bodies in morgues across the country, but everyone agrees it’s a problem that’s getting worse. The St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office had to add mobile refrigerated trailers in 2017 to hold all its bodies. The Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner briefly lost accreditation in 2017 because it ran out of storage space. In Mobile County, Ala., annual spending on indigent burials has increased 300 percent over the last decade. In Kentucky, Pollard estimates that indigent burials have jumped 50 percent in just the past 18 months…..