With prices rising at the fastest rate in more than four decades, the costs for food, housing, clothing, health care and child care continue to devour the meager resources of working people. According to the Brookings Institution, it now takes more than $300,000 for a working-class family to raise a child through high school.
For the seventh consecutive month food prices rose in all major categories, including meats, poultry, fish, dairy products, fruit and vegetables. Egg prices were up 38% from a year ago and grocery prices overall rose 13.1%. This hits workers with low paying jobs particularly hard, as greater proportions of their paychecks are spent on providing food for their families.
Some workers living in Southern California have been crossing the border into Mexico to buy groceries. Gibran Jimenez told NewsNation that he, his wife and their two kids drive for almost two hours to get to Tijuana, where a gallon of milk is 50% cheaper than in the U.S. and a four-pack of toilet paper costs $4 less. “I gotta save as much as I can, every penny counts,” he said.
Jennifer Smith, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and five children, told the Wall Street Journal their grocery bill has skyrocketed. She said meatless Mondays and clean-out-the-fridge Thursdays are new additions to the family’s bill of fare. “Our kids are back-to-school shopping now,” she added. “Everything has gone up.”
According to the National Retail Federation, families will spend an average of $864 on back-to-school needs, $168 more than in 2019. Parents are often directed by schools to retail store websites where lists of required supplies can amount to more than $100 and include everything from crayons and reams of paper to disinfecting wipes.
Chains aimed at workers that had been booming — like Target — report sales are falling now, as workers switch to Family Dollar or other cheaper outlets. Target reported its second quarter profits fell 90% while Dollar Tree, which owns Family Dollar, said the chain looks to open 590 new stores this year.
And for many workers there just isn’t a “cheaper” store to turn to.
Child care continues to be one of the greatest costs for working-class families, with many trying to juggle work schedules and calling for help from relatives in an effort to cut expenses.
Rents continued to rise in July, up 6.3% over the past year. And increasing numbers of working people seeking to finance a home find rapidly rising prices and mortgage rates make it more difficult to do so. “U.S. Housing Affordability in June Was the Worst Since 1989,” headlined an Aug. 12 Wall Street Journal article. According to the National Association of Realtors, the average mortgage payment in June was $1,944, nearly $650 higher than in January.
President Joe Biden and other administration officials — hoping to jigger statistics to boost Democrats’ election chances in 2022 — insist the economy has never been better, with the official unemployment rate at 3.5% and some companies clamoring for more workers. But the fact is factory production in the U.S. has slowed to the lowest level since June 2020, when the pandemic raged, according to an Aug. 1 report by Bloomberg News.
“As industries from trucking to fast food complain of labor shortages,” writes the Financial Times, a number of companies, from Microsoft to Walmart are projecting job cuts. Furniture retailer Wayfair is cutting 870 jobs, 5% of its workforce, and Ford plans up to 8,000 job cuts, part of a “climate-change” shift to building electric vehicles.
‘Everything costs more’
Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at Brookings, matter-of-factly tells the Wall Street Journal, “A lot of people are going to think twice before they have either a first child or a subsequent child because everything is costing more. You also may feel like you have to work more.”
It’s no surprise more workers today are exhausted from pulling overtime or are working two or three jobs!
A growing layer of working people are rejecting those options and have begun to fight for the right to have both a family and a family life. “We want to be able to support a family, not live week to week,” Ashley Lee, a striking United Auto Workers member at Case New Holland in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, explained.
On strike since May 2, the 1,100 union members are fighting for wages that keep up with inflation, work schedules that allow family time and affordable health care. These same issues have been at the center of union fights from Teamsters at FireKing — who won a 22% increase in wages over five years after a 12-week strike — to rail workers in Illinois, coal miners in Alabama, and in dozens of other labor actions.