2009-11-20 / Business

Slow economy leads to growth in cremation

Contributed by Furman Wingate

With the uncertainty in the economy, people are searching for ways to cut back on spending, especially when major events such as the death of a family member occur that require an outlay of funds, according to Ray Visotski, president of the South Carolina Cremation and Burial Society, Inc.

In effect, the economic conditions have escalated an already growing trend in the funeral industry – cremation. Traditional burials usually start around $4,500 and can easily reach $15,000 and higher by the time you add in caskets, opening and closing fees, headstones, embalming, and a vault, as well as the plot of land for an in–ground burial that can practically double the cost of a funeral or the cost of a mausoleum for above– ground burial.

In order to accommodate budget–conscious families, cremation is seen as a low–cost alternative by more and more consumers. Another factor to consider is that not all population areas have public cemeteries, such as the Hilton Head area; about 85 percent of the funerals in that region involve cremation.

Nearly 50 years ago, only 5 percent of the funerals in North America involved cremation. That percentage increased to 20 percent 30 years later, and in the past 15 years that percentage is pushing past 40 percent, which amounts to about 1.5 million cremations by next year. In Los Angeles, the poor economy has resulted in the county coroner’s office facing a 36 percent increase in cremations this year over last year. “The families just tell us flat–out they don’t have the money to do a funeral,” said a coroner’s investigator.

“There are many other reasons for this increased rate of cremation,” said Visotski. “First of all, cremation is becoming more acceptable. The level of education is rising; therefore, more people know about it. People are living longer and often there are no family members to tend to the gravesites. Also, regional differences are diminishing with the mobile society. The family may not continue living in the area, so the burial of a loved one would pose an inconvenience for return visits.”

And along that same line, cremation rates are higher in geographical areas that attract migrating retirees. For instance, in S.C., the cremation rate in the Aiken area is 50 percent while in Richland County the rate is about 36 percent. Many of the religious barriers have dropped as well. Interestingly, there is no specific teaching in the Bible about cremation. And in some cases, the wishes of the dying indicate they dislike the thought of being underground in death.

“All funeral homes offer cremation services, but many do not have a crematory or may discourage use of the service for monetary reasons since the actual performance of the cremation has to be sub–contracted to licensed crematories outside of their business structure. For those that do offer the services, the price and services can vary widely,” said Visotski.

The South Carolina Cremation and Burial Society is a group of people united in the belief that cremation is a dignified method of disposition. Membership allows families to make all arrangements in advance, thereby relieving survivors of the need to make urgent decisions while in the state of grief. At the time of death, SCCBS directors are available to help the survivors make arrangements, which could include memorial services, obituaries for newspapers, and paperwork for veterans’ benefits. There is no necessity to involve a local funeral home because the Society does everything.

Registration fee to become a member of the Society is $65. Through pre–registration, an individual can save as much as $500 on a simple cremation that does not include a ceremony, but does include transportation from the place of death within 60 miles plus administrative and staff services including refrigeration, cremation container, cremation, and filing of death certificate and necessary permits. The SCCBS cremation service is about half the price of most area funeral homes.

The South Carolina Cremation and Burial Society has been recognized as a marketing partner by the American Legion Department of South Carolina making it the only funeral care provider in S.C. and only the second one in the entire United States to receive this honor. Veterans and their families can save thousands of dollars in funeral services while utilizing National Cemeteries.

There are more than 5,000 members of the Society located at 1910 Jefferson Davis Highway in Graniteville, S.C. The phone number is 803-594-0705.

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