Food and Housing Costs Still Shoot Through the Roof

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The cost of living is high in the U.S., as monopolies gouge consumers at every turn. With a loaf of whole wheat bread at six dollars and gas prices still elevated and only going up, any trip to the store or the pump is painful. But that’s nothing compared to keeping a roof over your head. Even in the best of circumstances, say a retiree whose mortgage is paid off, things get worse, as property taxes and homeowners’ insurance skyrocket. Meanwhile, the American carbon-polluting dream of car ownership becomes ever more costly, as insurers hike rates dramatically, the cost of a new set of tires exceeds $600, and the average price for a new vehicle is $48,000.

But just forget about buying a home. With interest rates on a 30-year mortgage close to eight percent, who can afford that? Besides, a typical home price of nearly $500,000 lies far beyond the reach of most Americans, while rents zoom up again. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment a year ago was $1770, a 39 percent increase over the previous year, this year it’s over $2000, and rents only keep shooting up, up, up. No wonder so many people live in tents. That’s the real estate of the American future.

Officially and recently, the stats on homelessness were revised up, from the longstanding and mendacious 500,000 to 600,000. This should wave a red flag for any unbiased observer. For years, the U.S. government asserted two contradictory “facts:” 500,000 people undomiciled but 4.5 million homeless children. Given that at most every four of those 4.5 million kids is accompanied by a single parent, do the math. That’s 4.5 million roofless children plus at least roughly 1.12 million homeless adults, probably plus the original, laughably low-ball half million homeless. That’s over six million unhoused souls, or approaching two percent of the American population. Maybe more. This is a national disgrace. Last year, Washington funneled over $100 billion to its pet proxy war in Ukraine – what about $100 billion for low-income housing, so some of these folks don’t have to sleep under the stars and risk death from exposure? Large numbers of them are military veterans, who dumpster-dive for their dinner before curling up for a nap under an overpass. That’s some reward for their service to their country.

Monopoly-hiked, stratospheric prices disproportionally impact us proles. “Food price increases for the average middle-class to upper-middle-class households amount to around eleven percent of their annual income in 2023,” Zerohedge reported on October 16. “However, for people in the low-income bracket, food costs now amount to 31 percent of their annual income.” The lower your pay, the bigger the bite from soaring prices. “Prices are rising exponentially and low-income Americans just can’t keep up…food stamp benefits are decreasing as inflation rises. Social Security has seen an eleven percent increase from 2020 to 2023, but average costs have risen at least 25 percent to 50 percent on most goods.”

Middle and low-income millennials get an especially raw deal. Perhaps the worst deal of any generation of Americans going back to Independence. After all, they came of age bankrupt, the first generation thus distinguished, and up to their eyeballs in debt. They had to postpone buying a home, so the chief American method of accruing wealth, by building up equity, shut down for them. Many lived in their parents’ suburban basements for years. Many still do. In fact, according to a Harris survey, 45 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 live with their parents.

These numbers echo not merely those of the Great Recession, but something even worse, and more distant – the Great Depression; that’s the last time this many people couldn’t afford to start life on their own. Furthermore, high numbers of those who graduated college during the Great Recession of 2007-2010 did not snag good jobs – many got no jobs – for years and so started their careers on the wrong foot. Long term, their standard of living looks bleaker certainly than that of their boomer parents and of their greatest generation grandparents, too.

Now we hear we’re in a tight labor market. We are told that unemployment has sunk to a historic low of 3.8 percent or “only” 6.4 million people. But that number omits the millions of people who gave up looking for work. Do you ever wonder how such people survive? Because if millions of people abandoned seeking jobs years ago, they must be flat broke by now. No money for rent, food, utilities or vehicle. The lucky ones probably live in their cars.

But maybe, in this so-called historic tight labor market, some of those people, the long-term unemployed, did find work. Well, to return to that 3.8 percent, yes it’s low, but it includes millions of people working multiple jobs. These are not millions of happy employees, toiling merrily for 40-hour weeks with the weekend off. No. They work two or three jobs, often 60 hours per week including the weekend and frequently for miserable pay. But given that these stats never counted the long-term unemployed anyway, the millions who gave up looking, they’ve been slanted from the get-go.

The thought of 6.4 million desperate people without a wage does not soften the hearts of the Scrooges at the Federal Reserve, however. Fed chairman Jerome Powell has made it plain, his goal with interest rate hikes is to throw people out of work. So what if the social safety net is tattered gauze? This financial wizard believes, bizarrely, that the way to control inflation is to reduce workers to poverty. Not a peep from him about food, fuel, real estate and other monopolies jacking up prices to gouge consumers just because they can and they know darn well no bought-and-paid-for politician’s going to call for antitrust action. Au contraire. How corporations boost prices is of no interest to the geniuses at the Fed. Powell just wants to see more people in the unemployment lines and residing in homeless shelters.

The Fed is correct, however, that inflation needs a cure. According to a University of Michigan survey on October 13, 49 percent of Americans say that “high prices are eroding living standards.” That matches an all-time high back in July 2022, when gas prices were soaring, due to Biden’s suicidal sanctions on Russian energy. “The index of economic news heard by consumers worsened about 20 percent between last month and this month,” Zerohedge reported October 13, “reaching its lowest reading since May 2023. The most common negative topics mentioned were unemployment and higher prices, cited spontaneously by 20 percent and 16 percent of consumers, respectively.” The economic picture is dreary, and people know it, no matter how many rosy assessments Pollyannas like economist Paul Krugman trumpet in the press.

So as our money slides down the path to worthlessness, what does Washington do? Print more. Spend More. And by spending, I mean on the military. In addition to nearly $1 trillion per year to the Pentagon and its affiliates, Washington funneled a small fortune to Ukraine. Under Biden, overall, the U.S. has been spending close to half a trillion per month. And lots of that goes if not directly to the Pentagon, then to weapons manufacturers. Because the business of Washington is war, apparently. But the war business is largely socialized, paid for by Uncle Sam with big defense contracts. It doesn’t at all resemble a so-called free market. The notion that it does is a myth, widespread and very useful for the oligarchy, but still a myth.

Outside of the richest 20 percent, according to Bloomberg, Americans have burned through their extra savings and now have less cash on hand than they did at the start of COVID-19. Indeed, for years it’s been known that many Americans could not scrounge up $400 for an emergency, four in ten Americans according to Fortune back on May 23 – though on January 24 Bloomberg said two in three Americans could not dredge up $400 in a pinch. Whatever the actual number is, clearly it’s high. People in the homeland of the Exceptional Empire live paycheck to paycheck, and they stack their bills up on their credit cards. That’s called living in debt. The whole country’s doing it and will continue to, till the last monopoly is satisfied that it has squeezed every red cent out of its captive consumers and into its coffers. Without some serious antitrust action and some new antitrust laws, and that’s just for starters, the future looks dim – and very pricey.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.