US inflation dips from 4-decade high but still causing pain

After seven months of -0987persistent growth, inflation eased in April, indicating that price hikes may have peaked while still putting a financial burden on the American people.

Consumer prices increased 8.3 percent year on year last month, according to the government. This was lower than the 8.5 percent year-on-year increase in March, the largest since 1981. Prices climbed 0.3 percent month over month from March to April, the lowest increase in eight months.

Nonetheless, Wednesday’s data showed that inflation might be deepening. Core prices increased twice as much from March to April as they did the previous month, excluding volatile food and energy costs. Price rises for airline tickets, hotel rooms, and new automobiles exacerbated the increases. Rent for apartments has also continued to rise.

These price increases “show that there is still a long way to go before inflation returns to more acceptable levels,” according to Eric Winograd, the US economist at asset management AB.

Even if it moderates, experts predict that inflation will stay strong far beyond 2023, leaving many Americans plagued by price rises that have surpassed wage gains. Lower-income families and Black and Hispanic families are disproportionately impacted by higher food, gas, and rent prices.

For the time being, a drop in gasoline prices in April has helped moderate overall inflation. According to AAA, national average gas prices decreased to as low as $4.10 per gallon in April, after peaking at $4.32 in March. However, petrol prices have risen to a record $4.40 a gallon.

Grocery costs are still rising, partly owing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has increased the price of wheat and other crops. Food costs increased by 1% between March and April and by roughly 11% yearly. This is the largest year-over-year gain since 1980.

International turmoil may exacerbate inflation in the coming months. If the European Union, for example, chooses to ban Russian oil imports, global oil prices may soar. Gas prices in the United States might follow suit. Furthermore, China’s COVID restrictions may exacerbate supply chain snarls.

Airfares rose 18.6 percent in April, the highest monthly increase since records began in 1963. Hotel costs increased by 1.7 percent between March and April.

Southwest Airlines announced last month that it expects considerably greater revenue and profits this year as Americans return to the airports after a two-year hiatus. According to the firm, the average ticket increased by 32% in the first three months compared to the same period last year, reaching $159.

There are hints that supply chains for some items are improving. According to the survey released on Wednesday, prices for appliances and apparel both declined 0.8 percent, while the cost of used automobiles fell 0.4 percent, marking the third consecutive reduction. Used vehicles and other products accounted for a large portion of the initial inflation jump last year when Americans increased their spending once vaccinations were widely available.

Consumer inflation has prompted many Americans, particularly those on low or fixed incomes, to cut back on driving and food shopping expenses. Patty Blackmon, who lives in Las Vegas, said she’s been driving to less of her grandchildren’s sporting activities since petrol rose to $5.89.

Blackmon, 68, hasn’t seen her hairdresser in 18 months to save money. And she’s contemplating her plans to go to Arkansas this summer to visit family.

She was recently surprised to see a half-gallon of organic milk approach $6.

“Holy cow!” she said. “How do parents feed milk to their children?”

Blackmon has reduced her meat consumption, and “a steak is nearly out of the question,” she says. She is instead of eating more salads and canned soups.

David Irby, 57, of Halifax, Virginia, said he is also reducing his spending on food and other items. Irby, a veteran who retired on disability as a police officer in 2015, said he has moved to chicken from beef, stopped eating bacon, and no longer buys junk food such as his favorite pleasure, Cheetos.

Irby’s main concern is replacing his 22-year-old Ford pickup, which is unreliable on extended journeys. A new one costs $50,000, while a secondhand one that is five years old costs around $40,000.

“I don’t know how individuals on limited incomes can afford a car right now,” he remarked. “It takes about two years for me to make $40,000.”

Inflation is posing a serious political problem for President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats in the midterm election season, with Republicans claiming that Biden’s $1.9 trillion financial support package last March overheated the economy by flooding it with stimulus checks, increased unemployment aid, and child tax credit payments.

On Tuesday, Biden took the initiative, declaring inflation “the No. 1 concern confronting families today” and “my top domestic priority.”

Previous indications that US inflation was nearing its peak did not last. Price gains slowed in August and September of last year, raising the possibility that greater inflation was only transitory, as many economists — and Federal Reserve officials — had indicated. However, prices rose again in October, forcing Fed Chair Jerome Powell to begin adjusting policy toward higher interest rates.

According to experts, Wednesday’s statistics will keep the Fed on track to undertake its quickest set of interest rate rises in 33 years. The Fed hiked its short-term benchmark rate by a half-point last week, the largest increase in two decades. And Powell hinted that more such abrupt rate rises are on the way.

The Powell Fed is attempting the famously tough — and dangerous — task of cooling the economy sufficiently to cut inflation without triggering a recession. According to economists, such a scenario is plausible but improbable with severe inflation.

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