I have been measuring inflation by the price changes to green onions at my local H-Mart. I remember when I could buy five bunches for a dollar; now, they are priced at 79 cents for one bunch. Walk into any grocery store, and prices are not what they were even a couple of months ago. The food-at-home Consumer Price Index, which accounts for grocery prices, went up 0.4% from November to December 2021 and was 6.5% higher than in December 2020.
Inflation is not experienced the same across both regions and income levels.
Prices in the South and Midwest have reached a 30-year high. The Wall Street Journal notes that consumer prices were up 7.3% in the region comprising Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota. In addition to regional differences, persons that are poor or low income often experience inflation more intensely than those that are not. Low-income households typically spend a higher share on household essentials (housing, groceries, gas, etc.) compared to higher-income households. A study by the Penn Wharton Budget Model highlights this contrast, showing that among working households, lower-income households saw slightly larger increases (6.9%) for expenditures than middle- and high-income households.
The conversation around poverty often lacks nuance. As per federal standards, even a penny above the threshold (poverty line) and you are no longer considered to be living in poverty. It takes more than a penny to fundamentally change living conditions, life expectancy, educational attainment, food, housing, and income insecurity.
Who is head of household matters
According to the 2020 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, female-headed households experienced an increase in poverty rates from 22.2% in 2019 to 23.4% in 2020, about double the poverty rate for male-headed households, which remained unchanged at 11.4%. All household expenditures directly impact children.
The poverty rate for children, those under the age of eighteen, increased almost 2%, from 14.4% in 2019 to 16.1% in 2020.
Limited family budgets and increases in prices reduce the amount of money available for families to put towards their children’s specific needs – diapers, school supplies, and clothing, to name a few. The recently expanded child tax credit reached 62.1 million children, and 91% of families used the credit toward household expenses.
While prices have been going up across the board, the cost of Broadband internet services has seen notable declines.
New skills to manage challenges
If prices continue to rise, families, especially female-headed households, will need to utilize or acquire new skills to manage the additional financial strain. This month’s WISER Dialogue features Dr. Janice Johnson Dias, who discusses how her academic training and life experiences have given her a particular set of skills to influence social change. We are gifting free copies of her book, Parent Like It Matters, to the first 25 new subscribers to our YouTube channel and to the first 25 people to donate $50 or more to WISER during our 6th-anniversary fundraiser campaign.
Next month marks six years of WISER; please consider supporting our work with a donation.