Where 2,200 Americans noticed inflation

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Americans have felt the inflation at the hair salon and the frozen food aisle. They saw it buying pet food, pantry staples, and diapers. Yes, the gas pinches them. But the price of bacon too.

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they have noticed rising prices around them, according to a survey conducted in mid-February for Morning Consult’s The Upshot. And, when asked what price increases caught their attention, many mentioned basic necessities like gasoline, milk, ground beef and bread – a universe of products that is noticeably different from the whole more restricted items, such as used cars and rough lumber, which were skyrocketing. prices last spring.

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The survey results clearly show why consumers remain gloomy, even in times of rapid job and economic growth. Inflation is now unavoidable. And what it touches is deeply personal: a specific brand of formula, “the sausages my husband buys”, “my usual Alaskan salmon dinner at Captain D’s”.

“It’s not just a used-car phenomenon,” said John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult. “When it came to used cars, you could have the ability to opt out of inflation,” he added. “You could say, ‘I don’t want to buy a used car, so it doesn’t affect me, life goes on.'”

As the opt-out has become less and less possible, Americans now rank inflation among their top concerns for the first time in nearly four decades. In Washington, the subject hovers over President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and the Democrats’ prospects for the midterm elections. The government’s monthly release of inflation figures – which showed inflation hit a 40-year high on Thursday, driven by high petrol and food prices – has become an anxious political event . And sanctions on Russia that are rocking the global economy now threaten to drive up energy and food prices even further.

At a time of growing concern about inflation, the survey asked 2,200 people to name specific products and services that have stood out for higher prices over the past year. Open-ended responses show how much people care.

They can quote prices, like what a 3-pound bag of ground coffee cost at Costco last year. They noticed that some more expensive products have also shrunk in size. Even before fuel prices hit an all-time high last week, almost one in four people cited rising gas prices. Eight people pointed to the fact that the Dollar Tree chain of stores now charges $1.25 per item. Sixty-three people apparently tracked the cost of toilet paper. One hundred and twenty-seven mentioned a haircut.

Collectively, their responses touch on nearly every aspect of consumerism as the federal government tracks them. Dozens of people responded directly, often angrily, to this effect – that they saw inflation everywhere.

People volunteered to say the prices for bacon, beef, chicken, fruit, furniture, gasoline and an overnight campsite were “outrageous”. The price of a dozen roses, a Mountain Dew soda and a rib eye had become “ridiculous”. Many respondents blamed either the Biden administration or corporate greed.

High-income and low-income respondents generally cited the same products – gasoline most often, followed by groceries such as milk, beef and chicken. But that doesn’t mean that Americans who notice inflation in the same places experience it the same way.

“Sitting here as a high-income suburban mom, if you asked me when did I first see it, I’d also answer in a pound of ground beef,” said Northwestern economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. University that studies poverty. The price of ground beef has increased over 13% over the past year.

“But the price increase annoys us,” she continued. “That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped giving kids their favorite food.”

For the poorest families, the difference can mean hunger. When we asked respondents if there was anything else they wanted to share, many said rising prices, even on small purchases, had forced them to make tough choices.

Some described turning down the heat this winter to save money, cutting back on expenses like family vacations and dining out, and postponing home repair projects. People detailed coping strategies, including comparison shopping, buying in bulk – or, sometimes painfully, simply going without.

In some ways, the responses show that consumers view inflation differently from government policymakers and statistics.

Even as their answers covered the economy, people focused overwhelmingly on two categories — fuel and food — that are excluded from the core consumer price index measure that policymakers in Washington rely on. more when they wonder if inflation is rising too quickly.

The cost of food represents about 13% of the budget of a typical household. But food in one form or another was mentioned by over 90% of respondents here.

The outsized importance of food is consistent with research on how people form their opinions about inflation.

“What matters is what households actually buy frequently, rather than what has a higher spending share,” said Michael Weber, a finance professor at the University of Chicago. That’s likely because people have more exposure to items they buy often and it’s easier to remember their price changes, he said.

This means that the price of a carton of eggs can influence consumer impressions of inflation more than the cost of a new fridge to put them in. Federal policymakers, however, do not include eggs in their base metric because they assume eggs will decline in this price hike, while refrigerators and other less volatile items will tell us more about lasting trends in the economy. ‘economy.

The more mundane items cited here may convey something else anyway, about what makes consumers anxious when trying to connect their own lives to the wider economy.

“Inflation is insidious,” said one respondent. “It cuts small pieces at a time until you notice your financial situation is worse.”

Most strikingly, this person noted: the cost of cereal.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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