In the past year, inflation reached its highest level in four decades, crushing American consumers, erasing pay raises, and bolstering the Federal Reserve’s decision to begin raising interest rates.
Thursday, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose 7.5% year-over-year last month, the largest annual increase since February 1982. The price increase affected all sectors of the economy, from food and furnishings to apartment rents, airline tickets, and utilities.
Inflation measured from December to January was 0.6%, the same as the previous month and higher than what economists had predicted. From October to November, prices increased by 0.7%, and from September to October, by 0.9%.
Inflation has soared over the past year due to a combination of factors, including supply and labor shortages, federal aid, ultra-low interest rates, and robust consumer spending. And there are few indications that it will shortly slow significantly.
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Wages are increasing at the quickest rate in at least 20 years, which can put pressure on businesses to increase prices to compensate for rising labor costs. Last month, hundreds of employees at the nation’s busiest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, were absent due to illness. This has led to a severe shortage of workers at ports and warehouses. Consequently, many products and components remain in limited supply.
From December to January, prices increased for a wide spectrum of goods and services, not just those directly affected by the pandemic. In January, apartment rental costs increased by 0.5%, the quickest rate in twenty years. The price of electricity increased by 4.2% in January alone, the sharpest increase in 15 years, and by 10.7% year-over-year. The 1.6% increase in residential furniture and supplies last month was the largest one-month increase since records began in 1967.
In January, food prices rose 0.9% due to the higher prices of eggs, cereal, and dairy products. Air fares rose 2.3%. The prices of new automobiles, which have increased during the pandemic due to a shortage of computer processors, remained unchanged last month but are 12.2% higher than a year ago. Used-car prices rose 1.5% in January and are up a staggering 41% year-over-year as a result of the increase in the price of brand-new vehicles.
Many Americans are now less able to afford food, gas, rent, child care, and other necessities due to the constant increase in prices. Inflation has emerged as the greatest risk factor for the economy and the greatest threat to President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats as this year’s midterm elections approach.
Courtney Luckey, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, has altered her shopping habits and taken on additional duties at a grocery store in response to the rising cost of food and gasoline.
Previously, 33-year-old Luckey could fill a grocery cart for $100. Now, she said, $100 can scarcely fill half of the shopping cart. Tomatoes have reached nearly $5 per pound, which is absurd, in my opinion. Luckey has converted to canned tomatoes and started using Family Dollar and Food Lion coupons.
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She has also increased her hours at a Harris Teeter grocery store to help pay her expenses. However, because the store is 30 minutes away from her home, she has had to spend more on petrol.
Luckey has reduced her participation in family activities, such as bowling, with her daughter, her brother, and his two sons due to her compelled additional expenditure. These excursions now occur once per month, as opposed to every two weeks.
In the past year, significant increases in the prices of gasoline, food, automobiles, and furniture have disrupted the budgets of many other Americans. In December, economists at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania estimated that, in order to purchase the same basket of products and services as in 2020, the average household would have to spend an additional $3,500.
The report on Thursday will increase the pressure on the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Jerome Powell, to constrain credit in an effort to slow the economy sufficiently to reduce inflation. Two weeks ago, Powell signaled that the Federal Reserve would likely raise its benchmark short-term rate multiple times this year, with the first increase almost certainly occurring at the March meeting. Given the most recent inflation data, some economists and investors believe the Fed may decide to increase its key rate by 0.5 percentage points in March, as opposed to the typical quarter-point increase.
Over time, these higher interest rates will increase the costs of a variety of loans, including mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and business loans. This could reduce expenditure and inflation, but the Fed runs the risk of triggering another recession by continuously tightening credit.
According to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac, the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage increased to 3.69 percent last week, the highest level in more than two years. Higher interest rates will disqualify some prospective homebuyers.
In investor conference calls, numerous large corporations have predicted that supply shortages will persist until at least the second half of this year. Companies ranging from Chipotle to Levi’s have warned that they will likely increase prices again this year, after doing so in 2021.
Chipotle has increased menu prices by 10% to compensate for the rising costs of beef, transportation, and employee wages. In addition, the restaurant chain stated that it will contemplate additional price increases if inflation continues to rise.
John Hartung, the company’s chief financial officer, stated, “We keep assuming that beef prices will level off and then decline, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
Executives at Chipotle, Starbucks, and other consumer-facing businesses have stated that their consumers do not appear to be affected by the price increases.
In response to rising costs, including labor, Levi Strauss & Co. increased prices by roughly 7 percent above 2019 levels in 2018 and intends to do so again this year. Nevertheless, the San Francisco-based company has upgraded its 2022 sales projections.