Walking through the supermarket today felt like March 2020, not January 2022. Bare shelves plagued cold-food fridges for meat and green leafy produce. Other grocery items like dairy products and bread were severely limited. The cashier told me it had been this way for a couple of days. I assumed that shortages were due to the winter snowstorm that blasted the DC-Maryland-Virginia area a week prior and perhaps delayed deliveries. However, grocery stores thousands of miles away looked ransacked, too, as photos of #BareShelvesBiden expose.
Americans are starting to despair. Inflation hit a 40-year high in December 2021 as the consumer price index registered an increase of seven percent over the past 12 months. Spending 50%% more to gas up our cars and over six percent more on food is challenging. President Biden, please stop gaslighting Americans and telling us to deny what we are seeing with our eyes and feeling in our wallets.
The dual hardships of rising prices and shortages are painful for many Americans, and we are running out of alternatives to meet our needs.
Prices for all of the major food group categories were up from a year prior, most significantly in meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Shoppers unable to shell out about 19% more for beef won’t escape higher prices by opting for chicken or fish, because the prices are up on those items as well.
Rising wages, which the White House likes to tout, do not go far enough to keep pace with inflation. According to separate economic data also released Jan. 12, real average hourly earnings — or wages adjusted for inflation — decreased 2.4% over the past year.
Affording alternatives is only half of the equation; finding them is the other. The food shortages at retailers, from local grocers to big box stores, have turned grocery shopping into a game of Pokemon Go. Shoppers feel uncertain about the availability, quantity and quality of shopping cart items they depend on.
Data confirms their suspicions. About 15% of items are reportedly out of stock in U.S. grocers when typically it’s only 5-10 percent. These shortages are concerning to nearly three out of four grocery consumers. The reality on the ground is a huge disconnect from what the administration has been trying to convince us since the holidays.
The president said that they “acted” to fix the supply-chain issues, and “the much-predicted crisis didn’t occur.” Press Secretary Jen Psaki was more direct and tone-deaf, declaring, “We’ve saved Christmas!” Santa Claus must have heard her and put us all on the naughty list because bare shelves are back with a vengeance, undercutting Biden’s premature victory declaration over supply-chain woes.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg may not be aware of news reports or social media posts about food shortages though. As of Jan. 11, he was touting the movement of goods around the holiday season as “an extraordinary achievement.”
Christmas is three weeks gone. Americans face empty produce bins, bare bread shelves and vacant meat fridges now.
We understand that COVID-ill industry workers are adding to supply-chain disruptions as well as staffing shortages at retailers. Bad winter weather has recently also disrupted production and snarled roadways, slowing deliveries. However, worker shortages in the transportation industry and retail predate these short-term factors and, sadly, will continue after Omicron wanes and warm temperatures return.
Worker shortages are also not just hampering production and transportation of goods, but feeding into rising prices. Research indicates that government stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance – paid for with borrowed taxpayer money and debt to places like China – deterred people from going back to work.
Americans understand that President Biden can’t wave a magic wand to fix the economy. But they didn’t elect him to pursue inflationary policies and nearly half say that that is what his policies are doing.
Thankfully, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin placed the brakes on the Build Back Better Act out of concern that more massive federal spending would fuel inflation. He joins Obama-era economist Larry Summers as one of few voices on the left decrying the inflationary impacts of massive, untargeted federal spending.
President Biden launched a goose chase over price-gouging in specific industries such as the meat industry. We see through this futile attempt as an attempt to scapegoat industries, which have raised prices in response to hiking pay for workers and paying more for inputs from animal feed and fertilizer to packaging and transport fuel.
The White House needs to acknowledge what everyone has known for some time: inflation is here to stay for a while. Then, our national leaders and the private sector can figure out how to get a key factor in price increases and production back online: getting workers back to work.
Patrice Onwuka is the director of the Center for Economic Opportunity at Independent Women’s Forum (www.iwf.org/ceo).