Third Consecutive Year of High Inflation Frustrates Filipinos That Could Influence Election Outcome

by Edwin Quinabo

Broad economic data shows that while the U.S. economy is resilient and rolling, Americans’ optimism over the economy is dampened by stubbornly high inflation.

The persistent tug of inflation on household budgets is not only among the biggest issues for the U.S. electorate going into the general election, but it could depress President Joe Biden’s reelection chances, according to a Financial Times poll. Voters are growing less supportive of Biden, with 58% disapproving of his handling of the economy and inflation.

The poll results suggest voters blame Biden for higher prices for gasoline and food, without giving him credit for a strong economy, the Financial Times reports.

Economists say having a strong economy – which Biden can get credit for – does not necessarily mean contentment over the economy. Economists use mainly the gross domestic product (GDP) or total output of goods and services to measure economic strength. But GDP has biases and doesn’t tell the complete story. It could be that wealthy sectors of society are boosting GDP while large sectors of Americans are struggling, which could be one explanation why many Americans report difficult financial times despite reports of a fairly robust economy, experts say.

Inflation — when the value of the dollar falls, and the price of goods rises – is only one snapshot of the economy. With prices, they will always keep growing but inflation usually determines the pace of price increases. The lower the inflation, the slower that pace is, usually. But most Americans as consumers only see the prices of goods and services going up and their budgets shrinking in part because their income is not keeping pace with inflation.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll this month found that price increases remain a top concern for voters and U.S. adults trust Donald Trump over Biden on inflation by a double-digit margin. Eighty five percent of poll participants said inflation is an important issue, the second-highest priority among adults surveyed after the economy. Respondents said they trusted Trump over Biden by a margin of 14 percentage points.

What young people think about inflation and the economy
A Democratic-aligned public opinion research group Blueprint shows 52% of young voters trust Trump more than Biden when it comes to lowering prices.  Just 13% of voters think Biden is most focused on lowering prices while 32% of voters said Trump would be better focused on lowering prices.

Blueprint said, “The two biggest issues of this election, inflation and immigration, it’s very notable that with young voters — those are the only places Trump has an advantage, and it’s particularly concerning.” Other issues could sway their decision-making and historically young people are generally more inclined to choose a Democrat candidate over a Republican candidate on a wide array of issues.

But the polling also found that nearly every young voter answered that both inflation and the economy were the most frequently prioritized issues, chosen by 73% and 70% of young voters.  Another Democratic polling firm HIT Strategies mirrored the Blueprint survey.

Politicos point that this could be problematic for Biden because he overwhelmingly won among young voters in the last election and will likely need this demographic to be successful this election as well. In 2020, Biden won 61% of voters under 30 and 55% between 30 and 44, according to an AP VoteCast survey.

“Inflation is something that affects absolutely everybody,” Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution. “People notice it, whether they’re rich or poor.”

Filipinos on inflation and who to hold accountable
Fidel Hufana, retired healthcare worker, Waipahu, said “The current [Biden] administration is to blame, don’t kid yourself! The news will spin it. But the reality is that if you look at your quality of life and the quality of life in America as a whole, we were better off four years ago. We didn’t have all these issues with inflation. The housing market was stable. Consumers were able to do more and pay less. The current state of affairs will definitely influence my vote!”

He adds, “We need to get a new administration.  The federal funding as a whole, nationwide has to go to our own people, not other countries. We have so many people who could benefit from healthcare, housing, and so on, we really should focus our efforts on the needs of Americans!”

Mark Asuncion, Pearl City, also blames Biden, “Not enough effort is being placed on improving inflation. All we’re hearing from Biden is efforts to help foreign countries, handing out billions in foreign aid. But what about Americans’ needs. Congress is also to blame for this. There must be accountability for both political parties. But Biden is our leader, and he’s failing, and Americans are upset because we’re hurting financially. Trump will get my vote because it’s costing too much to make ends meet and Biden hasn’t done enough.”

Cora Salvador, Moanalua, said it’s easy to blame Biden. But high prices are more directly related to corporations’ greed and price gouging. “At least Biden is trying to get to the heart of the problem, which is runaway prices set by corporations. And he can’t do much since we have a divided Congress controlled by both political parties. Trump would be worse to handle inflation because he would let corporations do whatever they want. If Trump was in office this past four years, I believe it would have been the same with inflation because it’s mostly a result of the aftermath of the pandemic that we’re still recovering from. I’m sticking with Biden.”

In March this year, Biden announced a “strike force” was formed to hold companies accountable for price gouging. He recently called out corporation greed as a contributing factor in high prices.

“If you take a look at what people have, they have the money to spend. It angers them and angers me that you have to spend more,” Biden said. “It’s like 20 percent less for the same price. That’s corporate greed. And we have got to deal with it. And that’s what I’m working on.”

Trump criticized Biden’s remark saying that Biden is assuming Americans have that extra money to spend when many Americans don’t.

Biden’s campaign repeatedly boasts that Biden has delivered where Trump failed – a strong economy with 15 million new jobs and record-low unemployment, bringing down costs, and investing billions in communities that have been left behind for far too long.

Many economists agree with at least parts of Biden’s assessment and affirm high inflation usually is a result of a fast-growing economy and strong employment, which is why the Feds are working to tame inflation cautiously because it could be disruptive to the economy and employment. It’s like a balancing act, some economists say.

The heavy blows of inflation
Economists say 2023 was the third year of high inflation since the pandemic, with 2022 registering a record high of 9.1%, the highest annual rate in more than 40 years. The current annual inflation for the 12 months ending April 2024 is 3.36%, which shows a considerable drop. But the Federal Reserve believes it is still too high and targets a 2% annual inflation rate as a sign of a healthy economy.

Prices have surged 20.8% since February 2020, when the outbreak-induced recession began, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Frustration is over high prices that just never came down in many instances, experts say. But the pace of increase has in fact slowed down.

Recently Kauai County Council Chair Mel Rapozo and Kauai residents have complained about inflation. Items in Hawaii are known to be higher than usual relative to the mainland and for some items on the neighboring islands, they are higher than Oahu due to the cost of extra shipping.  Rapozo’s grievance over inflation came about due to the price of a loaf of bread that cost over $13.

“I have children who don’t live here because they can’t afford it,” Rapozo said. “Here on Kauai, we are used to things being a few dollars more, but this seemed too much.” He thought originally the price of bread was a joke. Rapozo said he filed a complaint with the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

The University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) reports Honolulu’s inflation rate this past March rose 4.8% over the previous year, which is 34% higher than the national rate.

According to a recent FT-Michigan Ross poll, high prices are one of the biggest financial challenges for 80% of voters. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of U.S. adults were “worse off” because of inflation, and 19% said their financial situation was “much worse.” Roughly 1 in 6 (16%) couldn’t pay all their monthly bills, a new Federal Reserve data shows, taken from the Fed’s 11th annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking.

In the same survey, half of adults didn’t have money left over after paying their monthly expenses. There were also higher instances of not having enough money to eat, not covering bills in full and skipping medical care.

Parents living with children under the age of 18 are the demographic hardest hit. Childcare has gone up and amounting to some 50% of what parents shelled out for their monthly housing payment, according to the survey. Rising gasoline and housing costs accounted for 70% of the price increases last month, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Consumer spending has decelerated on big (homes, cars) and small (retail) purchases because of high prices that economists say could begin to hurt the overall economy.

“For the last couple of years, the economy has been driven by household spending and now people are starting to say, ‘Let’s retrench here,’” said Jeffrey Roach, chief economist for LPL Financial. “The pressure from inflation has finally started to hit even upper-income households.”

Retail sales were flat last month and giant retailers like Home Depot, Under Armour and Starbucks all reported disappointing earnings.

Hufana said he stopped working due to health issues before the pandemic, but his household financial situation didn’t change much because his wife is a registered nurse, and his children are grown up and working. He said, “The value of the dollar has decreased so much that being a consumer is taking a toll on daily expenses. Everything has gone up significantly. If you compare grocery items like a bag of chips from $3.50 to $4.98, that is significant. Essentials like bread and toilet paper have increased in pricing over $2.00. When I look at my current grocery bill, I pay more for less items. Healthcare rates have increased, as well.  All you have to do is compare your premiums from now to before. You cannot deny the increase. If you look at your utility bills, and compare the rates, you will see that prices have increased. 

“In a household of two people, utilities are comparable to a family of four in 2019.  You can look at classifieds and see that rent has also increased.  Rent in some areas is higher than the standard mortgage, which is ridiculous. Looking at the housing market, the prices of houses have doubled. Getting a loan for a house is ridiculous and the HOA is also an issue, some places charge HOA fees that are over $2,000. That is price gouging, and many complexes don’t even do any improvements to validate increasing costs,” Hufana said.

He said while he doesn’t have difficulties paying his monthly bills, he knows others he used to work with who do, citing paying for utilities as difficult for them.

Asuncion said his wife balances their checking account and pays their bills. “She complains about how our internet connection keeps rising. It started from $65 a month, but it’s now well over $100 a month. The cost of our cars and home insurance, bundle rate, have also gone up. They say home insurance is higher because of the Maui wildfires. But that isn’t fair that we must pay more. It’s not like we’ve made any claims on either one of our insurances. We need politicians who can fight for us. We need better consumer protection. Our lawmakers should investigate whether the increased cost is warranted and not just price gouging. If insurance companies need to raise our coverage fees to build an emergency fund, maybe they should be paying their CEOs less money, skim their profits, and use some of that to go toward an emergency fund and not have customers pay more.”

Salvador does the shopping for her family of five – besides herself, her husband and her adult daughter along with her daughter’s husband and four-year old son. My daughter and her family recently moved back home about two years ago because of the high cost of childcare and rent.  My daughter contributes $375 a month for groceries. But we spend about $150-200 a little over a week for groceries for a family our size.  I’ve noticed for the same quantity of groceries, it costs us about 20% more. Fortunately, I retired from working for the state, so I am able to watch my grandson while his parents work, which saves them from spending for childcare.

Strategies to beat inflation recommends a few ways to lessen the strain of inflation on family budgets — shop sales, make more home cooked meals, cook your own food, bring your own coffee, lunch and snacks to work, opt for drinking water instead of juices and sodas, fill up your gas at stations that sell it cheaper, decrease your trips, plan a staycation, keep a pricing book, combine your errands and look for cheap entertainment options.

Hufana said, “I do not go out as often as I used to because it’s ridiculously expensive. Even fast-food prices are extremely high. For others who cannot really afford to pay for cable, I suggest you stream using Roku to get Netflix, Prime, Hulu or others. You can sign up for trials then cancel later. I find and use coupons more often now. You can also join rewards programs to get money back or discounts. If you go out, go during happy hour when prices of food and drinks are half off.  Look for BOGO deals. You can cut costs; you just have to look for them.”

Asuncion said he’s thinking about switching his internet service. He would also like to investigate more competitive rates for his insurances. “The thing is we’re so busy with working that we put off things that can save us money like shopping for better deals, not just on services and mandatory fees like insurance, but on other expenses that have gone up. It’s very frustrating, especially for my wife because she handles our finances. She has a general rule. She says she never pays our monthly bills at night because the stress doesn’t allow her to sleep. Instead, she puts aside time to pay bills on Sunday afternoon after church and lunch. We’re elderly and living off our pension. It’s getting harder each year to survive.”

Salvador shares her savings tips – “Use a credit card that offers cashback. If you have credit card balances, pay attention to lower interest rate offers and transfer the higher balance to a lower one. If you are a long-time customer of your mobile phone carrier, that industry is very competitive in that they often reward loyal customers with a lower and fixed price. I wish we had that competitiveness with public utilities. Our lawmakers should investigate that so we can shop for better prices. We’re also thinking about canceling our cable subscription. In the old days, we had lots of movies to choose from. Now there’s hardly any good quality movies. We have a whole bunch of channels with nothing worth watching because we must pay extra for premium stations like HBO and Showtime that’s not included in basic cable. Most of the good movies are now released on streaming.  It is no longer cost-effective to pay for cable and streaming. It’s frustrating because every company is milking us more and more. At the same time, our wages are frozen because our employers are claiming they’re not making enough money. It makes no sense.”

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