The sound bite couldn’t be throttled as it echoed through the internet streams from The View co-host Joy Behar, “Let me say something about Joe Biden. According to what I’m observing, the economy is booming, inflation is down, the stock market is doing well, people are having an easier time putting bread on the table, et cetra. He doesn’t seem to be getting the credit for that, only 41 percent approval.”
The average price of those sliced pieces of baked wheat flour at this moment is $1.93, depending on where your research information is derived. Something like Wonder Bread is $3.79 at my local Jay C Food Store. In 2016, the average price for a loaf was $1.80. That might be a drop in the bucket for some, but when you’ve got mouths to feed, and the cost of every item lining the metal shelves of your local grocery store has increased, in some cases doubled in price, that grocery store outing starts to devour a working person’s funds.
Between 1997 and 2023, bread has had an inflation rate of 3.37% per year.
Earning $7 million a year to talk, the bread Joy places in her mouth probably tastes a lot different than the bread folks eat where I’m from. Born and raised in flyover country, sadly, I know my people, the knuckle draggers of the Midwest, or maybe the deplorables, are probably the demography that tunes into her show 5 days a week and gives her a viewership.
All I can ask Joy Behar is, what planet are you living on?
Oh yeah, the entitled one.
The bottom line, inflation has been sizzling above the average for the last quarter century. Numbers are lower than the peak in 2022 of 9.1%, but prices are still off the charts.
For the working class, this isn’t something that can be clipped away like a hang nail. Regardless of what our leaders do or our out-of-touch-world news tells us, that jobs and wages are up, costs of everyday living keep increasing above our earnings, and blue-collar folks are not earning the salaries of their betters. What the working-class American feels is a tightening of the reins. An estimated 61% of working-class adults live paycheck to paycheck. Add to that another 72% of the working are financially insecure. In other words, they watch their checking accounts disappear week after week. Their nest eggs are nonexistent. Either they never had a savings account, or it’s been decimated.
One out of three households in the US are scraping to pay energy bills, buy groceries, and pay their medical expenses. Those who take the biggest fist in the face are the elderly, having preexisting conditions; add to that, statistically, they’re lower income. Some folks are having to choose between paying a bill or eating. Last I checked, this was America, not a third-world country.
All of this drives the working men and women’s stress towards a breaking point. Wreaking havoc on their mental health, replacing their happiness with dread. Waking up day after day, listening to or reading the news, they see the simple existence they once knew, a life of earning their way, having a cushion, some protection, diminished. And they have zero control.
My wife and I have watched our home energy costs blitzkrieg, things like water, electric and natural gas; three years ago we might’ve paid a combined total of $250-$350 dollars a month; now we’re into the ballpark of $450-$550 dollars month.
Then there’s food, going to the local Walmart every other week, walking up and down the glossed concrete aisles, pushing the caged cart, viewing price increases for miscellaneous items like vitamins. Yogurt. Cheese. Milk. Raw nuts. Paper goods, deodorant, toothpaste, and detergents.
Toilet paper’s expense imploded with the pandemic, never decreased, being more than a dollar a roll, the blame fell upon wood pulp, the raw material used to produce bath tissue. Pulp costs jumped globally, causing TP makers to increase the price hikes to raise their margins. Guess who gets the butt end of that, the consumer.
We don’t eat bread and little to no junk food. We consume fruits and green vegetables from our grocery and our local farmer’s market and purchase our eggs and meat from a local farmer. Meat prices in the store are an item we glance at but seldom buy. A ribeye, depending on the cut, is around $15.00 per pound. In 2020, a ribeye averaged $8.00 per pound.
Add in the cost of fuel for our weekly work commutes; on average, gas was $2.19 per gallon in 2020. Now, at my local BP this week, it’s $3.99. it’s costing me more to drive to the grocery, to commute to work, and even to visit family. And those who drive gas-powered vehicles get mocked by pompous elitists like Tesla driver Stephen Colbert, the 16-million-dollar man of late night who, in March of 2022, told Americans they should be willing to pay up at the pump; that surging gas prices are worth it for a clean conscience, while his audience laughed.
On average, the price of a new Electric Vehicle in January of 2023 was somewhere in the neighborhood of $64,000, which is slightly lower than the average price in the spring and summer of last year (2022). In 2023, a new gas-powered car of any kind in the US will cost around $48,000.
Recently, I read a story about a Canadian dude named Dalbir Bala, who resides around Winnipeg, Canada. Wanting an environmentally friendly vehicle as owning one is “responsible citizenship” these days. He’d purchased a Ford F-150 Lightning EV in January for $115,000 Canadian dollars (around $85,000 U.S. dollars), plus tax. Ford said the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on the vehicle is $77,495 U.S. dollars. Purchasing the vehicle for his work, his belief was he’d also drive it for recreational activities like commuting to his cabin or going fishing.
The reality of owning and operating an EV slapped Bala in his wallet right away with one dilemma after the next, after installing two chargers – one at his work and one at home – that was an additional $10,000. Having to accommodate the charger, he had to upgrade his home’s electric panel for another $6,000. In total, Bala dropped more than $130,000 – plus tax. He also had a minor accident that required some bumper work; the body shop took six months to fix it. No one from Ford would answer his emails or return his calls to offer help. Then came the issue of long-distance travel, a 1,400-mile road trip to Chicago, where stopping at fast charging stations would only charge an EV to 90% and cost more than gas to use. $56 dollars for two hours of charging. The charge only lasted 215 miles. You can do the math. That’s not counting the free chargers that were faulty. And no responses from the Help Hotline numbers he phoned from the stations. Unable to charge the truck, he had it towed and rented a gas vehicle to finish his trip.
With higher gas prices and the push towards switching to an electric vehicle by 2035, it’s as if the average American worker is being forced to buy something he or she cannot afford in an economy that’s already trying to break us. Inflation is forcing the working class to spend $709 a month more than they did two years ago, says chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.
You can’t buy an EV when you’re living paycheck to paycheck and have to choose between paying bills or eating.
I feel it every week after bills are paid. There’s a little less leftover than used to be. Pulling up to the gas pumps, selecting my fuel grade, and watching the digital numbers take away what’s left over. There’s that sinking feeling of sickness. Knowing we’re taxed for everything: food, gas, property, what we own, and the wages we earn. Only to be told wages are going up along with job growth since the pandemic omitted nearly 200,000 small businesses that won’t return. Add to that between 21-22 million Americans were without work after the pandemic.
Employment in July showed 187,000 jobs being filled, and June was 185,000. And more in August. But these are jobs that had been lost due to Covid.
While the media reports this mocking of growth, a portion of the manufacturing that feeds us, Tyson Foods will be closing down four chicken processing plants to lower costs, one of which is in my hometown of Corydon, Indiana. Turns out Tyson has been bleeding capital, posting a loss of $417 million during its third-quarter financial results.
What this means for working folks in my hometown, 368 employees will be jobless in March of 2024, along with 45 contract growers in and around Harrison County. There is an offer for relocation benefits. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development will connect Tyson employees with resources and assistance. There are three more plants closing, two in Missouri and one in Arkansas. This means more people without jobs and more growers no longer supplying Tyson with chickens.
In the industry that delivers goods, the trucking industry, Yellow Freight filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Yellow estimated total assets of $2.15 billion and total debt of $2.59 billion. On August 7th, 30,000 workers were looking for employment elsewhere. Around 100 years old, the company all but stopped operations on July 30th. Fingers are being pointed at the Teamsters Union. A quote from Reuters, “Teamsters leadership was able to halt our business plan, literally driving our company out of business,” Yellow CEO Darren Hawkins said in a statement late Sunday. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters blamed Yellow executives for the company’s demise. “Yellow’s dysfunctional, greedy C-suite failed to take responsibility for squandering all that cash. “They still don’t,” said Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien. “They shamelessly pin their corporate incompetence on working people.”
This is coming from the guy who earns $1.27 million a year.
Inflation is another word for bad governing. Making the decision to print more money when no one was working, flooding the system with currency. You don’t print money without producing a product. In August of 2019, there was $14.9 trillion in circulation; in January of 2022, there was $21.6 trillion in circulation, with nothing to show for it.
What US workers don’t need are more excuses. Rather than pointing fingers, how about some accountability from both sides? Taxpayers are the people who are losing. We have families to feed. Mortgages and rent to pay and the outlook from day to day is anything but pleasant. It’s grim. Rates for home buyers are at their highest in 20 years. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage is hovering around 7.09 percent, but economists are eyeing 8 percent if and when the Federal Reserve hikes the rates again. A year ago, rates were just above 5 percent.
Our dollar is being stretched, devalued, and weakened. Per Yahoo Finance: “US inflation is dropping faster than in Europe and Asia, but other central banks are behind the Fed in terms of raising rates, so the dollar is depreciating relative to the Euro and Asian currencies,” Jay Hatfield, CEO at Infrastructure Capital Management.” And Asia has cut a deal as the backup currency, offering the yuan for use with trade and transactions between Russia, Iran, Brazil, Argentina, and Bangladesh; it’s referred to as de-dollarization, meaning the US dollar could be replaced in large part because of the Russian sanctions. These other countries are planning ahead.
What could this mean for the everyday working-class American? It’d be tougher to garner capital; loans would be tagged with higher interest rates, and our investments, stocks, and 401K would be worthless. This would kill entrepreneurs wanting to start new businesses or expand their existing businesses.
I’m not too old, nor was I too young to recall standing in line with my mother for government cheese handouts in the early 80’s. The thick squared blocks, about 12 to 15 inches long, housed in a thin brown cardboard box, sealed in plastic, bringing it home to eat, and pairing it between Saltine crackers. This was the time period when Carter was gone, and Reagan was signing the Agriculture and Food Act of 1981. This was after the oil embargo against Iran resulted in turbocharged gas prices and extreme energy shortages in the U.S., and inflation shot up to 14.6%.
Carter tried to cap wages and prices and released grain reserves to drop food costs. That did little if anything, other than cost him his second term as president. I can remember, as a kid, people saying, that’s the last time I vote Democrat. There was an anger and hostility I recognized but didn’t understand amongst the working people my parents associated with, as my parents had always been independents, middle-of-the-road voters.
During that time period, my father lost his factory job, and he and my mother had to start over financially. He went to night school to become an insurance salesman while bartending afterward, eventually re-enlisting within the military, the Army Reserves as his third income. My mother would cashier for a time, then work in a factory called Evanite in the mid-’80s, a manufacturing facility that produced separators for automobile and heavy-duty batteries, supplied Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Die Hard battery, and other brands. The company would change names in the 90s to Daramic LLC; by this time, my mother had taken a better-paying job at a chemical factory in Louisville, Kentucky. In July of 2021, during the pandemic, Daramic closed its doors permanently. Killing 75 jobs in my hometown.
American workers are resilient, tough, and reliable. They’ve carried a government of men and women on their backs for decades with little return for their labors; while those politicians have been cashing in, there were 22 members of the House and Senate invested in private equity in 2021, 10 Republicans and 12 Democrats, some of the wealthiest in Congress because of a loophole, a federal tax law that allows a select group to receive their pay at lower tax rates than the average tax paying knuckle dragger. The private equity industry spent $16.5 million lobbying Congress in 2021; 415 of 435 House members and most senators accepted money from the industry during the runup to the last election. Congress’ biggest private equity investors are Rick Scott, Mark Warner, Suzan DelBene, Richard Blumenthal, and Mitt Romney. Each are millionaires.
It does not matter how many facts are laid out or instances I can relate and mention the decimation of the working class; nothing will change, bad decisions will be glossed over, and the out-of-touch-media will nest upon their perches, suppressing and lying and acting like we’re all living comfortably and mock the working as backward and ignorant, while our tax dollars create richness and wealth for the elite. Rules for thee and not for me.
To sum up our current situation, I’ll take a quote from my newest novel, Back to the Dirt, from the character perspective of Nathaniel:
America had slipped into a sewer of false hopes and consumerism. A government that used working men’s and women’s tax dollars for their pet projects but did little to help the working class. In his mind, they just wanted citizens to work and to keep their mouths shut.
Seemed there was a select group of people who paid more attention to a movie star’s private life than they did to the people who were running their own country into the ground. Men and women who pushed values onto other continents that weren’t even values; these politicians would get the backing of their constituents, start a war, destroy a country, make some backroom deals, waste tax dollars rebuilding that country, and leave the citizens of their own country, the same ones who voted them into office, to bleed out in the streets, slowly creating an American wasteland.
Editor’s Note: Frank has informed me that since he finished writing this piece:
- Americans now hold $1.03 trillion in credit card debt, up $45 billion from the first quarter to the second quarter of the year. This reflects the fact that the average American is running out of liquid assets, otherwise known as cash.
- Two out of three Americans who are planning to buy a home are waiting to do so until mortgage rates drop. Unfortunately, rates will likely climb again before they fall.
- The average age for an American to buy their first home has risen to 36 years old, the highest point in history. As a point of comparison, the average age of first-time homebuyers in the 1950s was early to mid-20s.
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SOFREP and Frank Bill go together like ribs and BBQ sauce. Click on the links to check out more of his fantastic body of work: The Ravaged, with Norman Reedus; the novels Back to the Dirt (May 2023), The Savage and Donnybrook, the latter of which was turned into a film in 2018; and the story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana, one of GQ’s favorite books of 2011 and a Daily Beast best debut of 2011.