By CASEY HARPER
THE CENTER SQUARE SENIOR REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Inflation has slowed from its rapid growth in the past two years, but surveys show Americans are still feeling the pain from the jump in prices.
Gallup released new polling data Tuesday showing that 55% of those surveyed say inflation is causing financial hardship for their household. Notably, 13% of Americans say inflation has caused their families “severe hardship.”
Gallup’s data showed the number of Americans reporting the pain of inflation increased in the past year before leveling off since August.
“Gallup first asked about the effects of higher prices a year ago, at which time 45% said they were experiencing hardship,” the group said. “Two months later, the percentage increased modestly to 49%, before a larger jump of seven percentage points in August.
“Although the 13% experiencing severe hardship is technically the highest Gallup has measured to date, the percentage has been fairly stable at around 10% over the past year,” Gallup added.
The survey comes as federal inflation data shows prices are still rising in recent months, though at a slower pace. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month that consumer prices rose 0.4% in the month of October, part of a 7.7% rise overall in the previous 12 months.
“The index for shelter contributed over half of the monthly all items increase, with the indexes for gasoline and food also increasing,” BLS said in its report. “The energy index increased 1.8% over the month as the gasoline index and the electricity index rose, but the natural gas index decreased. The food index increased 0.6% over the month with the food at home index rising 0.4 %.”
President Joe Biden has touted the slower inflation and the dip in gas prices from record highs of over $5 per gallon in the summer to about $3.38 per gallon currently, according to the American Automobile Association.
California’s gas prices have remained among the highest in the nation. On Tuesday, AAA reported that the state’s average price was $4.72 a gallon. The only state with a higher average was Hawaii, where the average on Tuesday was $5.18 a gallon.
While higher than the average in 48 states, California’s price is decreasing. It’s down from $5 a gallon a week ago and $5.46 a month ago. One year ago, the average price was $4.69 a gallon.
In Santa Barbara County, Tuesday’s average price was $4.82 a gallon, according to AAA. That’s down from $5.03 a gallon a week ago and $5.48 a gallon one month ago.
“Our economy is growing at a strong pace, gas prices are down since the summer, and unemployment is near record lows,” President Biden said. “The American people should have confidence that our plan to tackle inflation, without giving up the historic economic gains we’ve achieved, is working.”
Critics, though, point out that despite those gains, consumer prices and gas prices are still much higher than when President Biden took office. Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, pointed to the inflation pain as a warning to lawmakers, who are looking to pass a string of last-minute bills this month before the new Congress takes over, including a potential omnibus appropriations bill of $1.65 trillion or more.
“To help fight inflation and reduce the risk of a deep recession, Congress needs to bring spending under control, not continue to boost it,” Ms. MacGuineas said. “A 10-percent-plus boost to defense and nondefense spending would expand government spending even relative to today’s high inflation. An omnibus this large would increase deficits, further drive up our debt and make it harder for the Federal Reserve to fight inflation.”
Gallup’s survey found that less affluent Americans are feeling that pain the most.
“No less than 66% of lower-income Americans have reported financial strain from inflation over the past year, with the current reading the highest measured to date,” Gallup said. “Less than half of middle-income Americans said they were experiencing hardship a year ago, but by January, the percentage jumped 10 points to 56% and has been 60% or higher in the past two measurements.”
News-Press Managing Editor Dave Mason contributed to this report.