LeDuff: Frustration mounts with inflation on aisle seven | Opinion
Something is brewing in aisle seven, and you can hear it all the way from aisle five.
The distinct sound of frustration and worry comes at the end of the month at Parkway Foods — a nice, well-stocked grocery store on Detroit's east side. The floors are mopped and the vegetable are fresh.
But the shopping carts are light. The shoppers this time are not well to do. In the last week of April, you see the working stiffs who live paycheck to paycheck or on a fixed income.
In today's America, the Average Ednas and Regular Guy Reggies cannot afford to shop with wanton desire. Penny wise is the rule of the day. These are the people who are really feeling the pinch of food inflation. These are the majority of Americans.
“I don't get it,” fumes Reggie, a self-employed handyman, who's looking over the aluminum barbecue pans. “It says four for $5. But I only need one.”
The idea of buying more than he needs sends Reggie into a muttering rage. The extra few bucks mean a lot. The cheapest bread is now going for $2.50 a loaf. Eggs are going for $2.50. Cereal is up to $7. A quart of orange juice? Forget about it.
“You seen the price of meat?” asks Reggie.
Over at the coolers, Maquita Bush is stocking packaged meat. Ground beef is selling for around $3.00 a pound. Bush is something of a real world, practical math economist.
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“Those who get the government assistance, you don't really have to worry about them,” she says. “They got an increase at the start of COVID. Then they got another last year, and now they're getting another one starting this month. They're fine. It's the people who work that you hear it from. That's who inflation is hardest on. Those are the people who have the real complaint.”
Indeed, Bush's mathematics check out.
To be eligible for food assistance a family of three must earn less than $30,000. That's about $15 an hour if just one parent is working.
At the beginning of the pandemic, their food stamp allotment was increased to $509 a month. With the governor's latest bump up, that same family will receive $658. A 30% increase above the first increase.
Now you can measure inflation anyway you want: up 8.5% for the year, up 10% for the year for just groceries. The price for meat and eggs has increased nearly 15% over the last year. Anyway you count it, working people are growing thin.
The wealthy don't have to worry about it. The wealthy got wealthier during the pandemic. The professional classes got their low interest loans and payroll protection payouts. The poor got their food assistance.
The working stiff got a few stimulus checks. Some got supplemental unemployment benefits. But now that's gone. What they have left is a basket of worry and more inflation on the way. Drought in the west. War in the east. Food prices going north.
“Nowadays you have to choose between paying more for the same amount of food you used to get, or you pay the same amount of money for less food,” says Martha Robinson, a retired city worker shopping for greens. “You either get a second job or you eat less.”
The occupants in the White House, the state Legislature and city hall would be wise to remember that. As the working class goes, so goes America. They're easy enough to find. He's standing right there in aisle seven, cursing to the rafters.
Charlie LeDuff is a columnist for The Detroit News and host of "The No BS News Hour." His columns will appear on Wednesdays.