Bacon, Gas, and Coffee: Where 2,200 Americans Have Noticed Inflation

Americans have felt the inflation at the hair salon and in the frozen food aisle. They have seen it while shopping for pet food, pantry staples and diapers. Yes, the gas is pinching them. But so is the price of bacon.

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they have noticed prices rising around them, according to a mid-February survey by Morning Consult. And, when asked which of the price increases had caught their attention, many cited necessities like gasoline, milk, ground beef and bread, a universe of products remarkably different from the more limited set of items like cars. second-hand and raw lumber, which were skyrocketing. in price last spring.

The survey results make it clear why consumers remain depressed, even at a time of rapid economic and job growth. Inflation is now inescapable. And what’s poignant is deeply personal: a specific brand of infant formula, “the sausages my husband buys,” “my usual Alaskan salmon dinner at Captain D’s.”

“This is not just a used car phenomenon,” said John Leer, chief economist at Morning Consult. “When it came to used cars, you could basically have the option of not participating in inflation,” he added. “You could say ‘I don’t want to buy a used car, so this doesn’t affect me, life goes on.'”

As opting out has become less and less possible, Americans now rank inflation among their top concerns for the first time in nearly four decades. In Washington, DC, the issue looms over President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and the Democrats’ prospects in the midterm elections. The monthly release of government inflation figures, which on Thursday showed inflation hitting a 40-year high, fueled by soaring gasoline and food prices, has become an anxious political event. And the sanctions on Russia that are ratcheting up the global economy now threaten to drive up energy and food prices even higher.

At this time of growing alarm over inflation, the survey asked 2,200 people to name specific products and services whose higher prices have caught their attention over the past year. Open responses show how closely people are paying attention.

They can quote prices, like what a 3-pound bag of ground coffee cost at Costco last year. They have noticed that some more expensive products have also been reduced in size. Even before fuel prices hit a record high last week, nearly 1 in 4 people mentioned the rising cost of gasoline. Eight people pointed to the fact that the Dollar Tree chain store now charges $1.25 per item. Apparently, sixty-three people have been tracking the cost of toilet paper. One hundred twenty-seven mentioned a haircut.

Collectively, their answers touch nearly every corner of consumption as the federal government tracks it. Dozens of people responded directly, often angrily, to that effect: that they have seen inflation everywhere.

People said the prices for bacon, beef, chicken, fruit, furniture, gasoline, and a place to camp overnight were “outrageous.” The price of a dozen roses, a Mountain Dew and a steak had become “ridiculous.” Many of those surveyed blamed the Biden administration or corporate greed.

The highest and lowest income respondents generally mentioned the same products: gasoline most often, followed by grocery items such as milk, beef and chicken. But that doesn’t mean Americans who notice inflation in the same places are experiencing it the same way.

“Sitting here as a high-income suburban mom, if you asked me when I first saw it, I’d also answer in a pound of ground beef,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist at Northwestern University who studies poverty. The price of ground beef has risen more than 13% in the last year.

“But the price increase is just annoying to us,” he continued. “It hasn’t meant that I’ve stopped giving kids their favorite food.”

For the poorest families, the difference can mean hunger. When we asked respondents if they would like to share anything else, many responded that rising prices, even on small purchases, have left them making difficult decisions.

Some described turning down the heat this winter to save money, cutting back on expenses like family vacations and restaurant meals, and delaying home repair projects. People detailed coping strategies, including comparison shopping, buying in bulk or, sometimes painfully, simply doing without.

In some ways, the responses show consumers looking at inflation differently than government policymakers and statistics do.

Even when their responses spanned the economy, people overwhelmingly focused on two categories (fuels and food) that are dropped from the Core Consumer Price Index measure that federal policymakers rely on most when considering whether inflation is brewing. rising too fast.

Food costs are about 13% of a typical household’s budget. But food in some form was mentioned by more than 90% of those surveyed here.

The outsized importance of food is consistent with research on how people form their views on inflation.

“It’s important what households buy frequently, rather than what has a larger share of spending,” said Michael Weber, a finance professor at the University of Chicago. It’s probably because people are more exposed to items they buy frequently, and it’s easier to remember price changes, he said.

That means the price of a carton of eggs may shape consumers’ impressions of inflation more than the cost of a new refrigerator to put them in. that jump in price will come back down, while refrigerators and other items that are less volatile tell us more about lasting trends in the economy.

The most common articles cited here may convey something else anyway, about what makes consumers anxious as they try to connect their own lives with the broader economy.

“Inflation is insidious,” offered one respondent. “Cut off bits at a time until you realize you are worse off financially.”