St. Patrick’s Day: An Economic Pot of Gold

Big and small parades, busy pubs and other celebrations for this traditional Irish holiday infuse the U.S. economy with a little extra green during a typically slow period for tourism in many cities.

Every March millions of people around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day—the traditional Irish holiday that honors the patron saint of Ireland and the country’s culture while providing an opportunity to enjoy a party.

While only about 12 percent of Americans claim Irish heritage, more than 39 percent celebrate the holiday every year, hoping to find some luck of the Irish. This equates to nearly 130 million consumers who will infuse the economy with a little extra green.

Total spending on St. Patrick’s Day-related items like decorations, novelty items, food and beverages – especially those of the foamy variety -- typically come in around $4.6 billion, with an average spending of $36.52 per person, according to the National Retail Federation.

This increased spending provides an extra boost to the U.S. economy during a traditionally slow period for the tourism industry in many states. “St. Patrick’s Day events can draw visitors, and spending, to colder climates during the traditionally slow tourism period between the busy winter holiday and the summer travel season,” said Mekael Teshome, PNC Bank economist.

As a result, cities with popular St. Patrick’s Day parades or other activities can see even more potential for an economic pot of gold at the end of the holiday.

Parades Bring Crowds and Cash

New York City’s parade, established in 1762, draws over 2 million spectators to its Fifth Avenue route, making it one of the largest in the country. To maintain tradition, the parade does not allow floats, balloons or motorized vehicles and instead relies on marching bands and participants on foot. Each year more than 150 bands from around the country flock to the city to set the cadence for the parade, bringing with them the sound of gold coins—to the tune of approximately $250 million in tax revenue.

“Typically, with events like this the hosting location receives a large increase in business activity during the surrounding days,” Teshome said. “On top of that, there can be an overflow that spreads out to areas outside of the primary location, to hotels and restaurants in a certain radius of the city, which in turn expands some of those economic benefits.”

Chicago reaps the benefits of this “economic overflow” perhaps more than anywhere else. With three separate St. Patrick’s Day parades spread over two days, plus the popular dying green of the Chicago River, visitors often stay in and around the city for more than just a few hours. That brings increased spending on lodging, transportation, food and drinks from over 1 million attendees.

Even parades in slightly smaller cities, like Savannah, Ga., with a population of 145,000 people, can still draw over 300,000 spectators in an annual tradition. Local businesses typically try to take advantage of this surge during a typically slow season to advertise specials – everything from reduced-price hotel rooms and tours of the city to green ice cream and discounts on food and beverages, especially beer.

Competition Brewing

Another major influence on local economies surrounding St. Patrick’s Day is beer. Many cities have well-established pub crawls that prompt extended hours at bars and restaurants, with some opening as early as 7:00 a.m. to accommodate parade-goers.

In addition, cities with breweries and brew pubs could witness an even larger economic boost, with Americans spending $250 million on beer alone on March 17.

The competition for this money is foaming among big-name breweries and smaller, craft beer makers.

According to the Brewers Association, craft breweries grew 22 percent in 2014, pumping nearly $20 billion into the economy, while the overall industry grew only 0.5 percent.

Nearly $50 million in tax revenue (business, personal and consumption taxes) is generated by beer sales and production. Directly and indirectly, the beer industry also employs more than 1.75 million Americans.

Whether dyed green or not, beer brings plenty of green to the U.S. economy.

Mekael Teshome says a little Irish luck can boost a region

Lucky Numbers

  • 7: Times the White House fountains have been dyed green
  • 19: U.S. cities named Dublin
  • 45: Pounds of dye required to color the Chicago River
  • 98 feet: Length of the parade route in Hot Springs, Ark.
  • 253: Number of St. Patrick’s Day parades hosted by New York City