William Katz:  Urgent Agenda








A dollar doesn't go as far as it used to.

Americans are paying higher prices for everything from groceries to gas. The consumer price index, which measures what consumers spend on goods and services, rose 8.3% in August from a year ago.

With wages lagging surging inflation, household budgets are being stretched thinner than a rubber band. More than one-third of Americans said it was somewhat or very difficult to pay for household expenses, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey.

Savings are dwindling and credit card debt is mounting. To get by, people are cutting back on meat for dinner and on nights out. Even kids are going without new shoes or supplies for school.

USA TODAY talked with families from California to Georgia and from Arkansas to Ohio about how they are coping with their new economic reality. These are the faces of inflation.

When Sonja Smith retired from her job as a Georgia state government employee in 2018, she planned to volunteer and work part-time as an insurance agent.

Last year, Smith, 55, was forced out of retirement when she could no longer pay her bills.
“I thought my pension would be enough,” she said, especially since she’d moved out of a market-rate apartment in a nice neighborhood to low-income “tax credit” housing in a not-so-safe part of town.

Smith’s top priority was to stay in the city of Atlanta so her 15-year-old daughter could continue to attend the city charter school.

But thanks to record high inflation, her rent increased from $950 per month in 2019 to $1,113 in 2020. The cost of food, gas and auto insurance also jumped. Her auto insurance went from $200 a month to $300 a month since she was living in a “high crime” area, she says.

Smith gets about $2,300 per month in pension.

“We ate a lot of salads and beans because I just couldn't afford the meat,” she says.
Last year, she went back to work full-time.

Smith is a human resource specialist with the Clayton County School District and makes about $42,000 a year. This year, she received a pay raise of 3%.

Last year, differences in year-over-year wage growth rates between private sector and state and local government doubled to the highest levels in nearly four decades, according to Pew Research.

“Our pay increases have not kept up with inflation and it is hurting us,” says Smith. “That’s why we are having teacher shortages. It’s the wages.”

When she reported her additional income, her rent increased to the market rate rent – $1,450. Her current lease ends in December and she's worried her new rent could jump up to $1,650.

"That's the going market rate," she says.

She briefly considered moving back to her old neighborhood in hopes of saving on auto insurance. But the sticker shock stopped her: The rent there now is $1,900. Now, between her pension and her new job, she makes about the same amount as her previous full-time job.

“I’m barely making it,” she says.

COMMENT:  Please read the rest.  This is good journalism – reporters actually going out and talking to real people who don't work in either Washington or New York.  The country is hurting.  It's going to get worse, as the coming recession deepens.  We need the kind of shoe-leather reporting that Salena Zito and a few others practice.  I'm glad to see USA Today doing this piece.  Real people.  Real numbers.  Not theories or leftist interpretations.  When Americans see their actual lives reflected in their newspaper, their trust in the press increases. 

October 1, 2022