As I am writing this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just published the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for March 2022. The inflation rate rose to 8.5%. This is the largest increase in prices in over 40 years.
And the inflation rate for basic necessities is even higher. Overall grocery prices are up 10% since last year, with 14% average increases for milk, eggs, meat, and fish. Gas prices are up 48% and used car prices are up 35% from last year. Housing prices, including rents, are also up significantly. And while there have been wage increases for families that were just getting by, the rising prices of basic necessities have more than wiped out their pay raises.
Unfortunately, high levels of food inflation are likely to continue for quite a while, as key drivers, such as rapidly rising farm-level costs (fertilizer, seed, gas, machinery) and geopolitical factors disrupting the food supply chain are ongoing.
While higher levels of inflation are not typically good for anyone, the impacts of today’s high price increases are disproportionately felt by those just trying to make ends meet. For families that are in low-income/poverty, most if not all of their income goes to just basic needs: food, housing, transportation, healthcare, and clothing. When those costs increase dramatically, they are forced to make some difficult choices. Typically, the first expenditure they reduce is food – especially perishable food, which tends to be healthier food.
It comes as no surprise that we have recently seen record numbers of people needing food assistance. Last week, Loaves & Fishes served over 5,200 people. This is 60% higher than we served in the beginning of 2022.
The good news is that we now can serve more clients through multiple methods: grocery market shopping, online ordering, and curbside pick-up. The other good news is that the more families struggle, the more our community steps up. We are very thankful for that.