Census Data Explains Why You Feel So Broke

It’s not just the rent that’s infantilizing your life. It’s everything everywhere all at once.

It’s easy to zero in on your rising rent, when trying to figure out why you’re slipping into credit card debt, and forced to move back in with your parents. Was it the big rent increase? How about food prices? Was my auto insurance doubling the last straw?

As this analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, it’s quite literally everything. With the exception of used vehicles (which had gone exorbitantly high) and gasoline (a teeny tiny decrease). Pretty much everything else went up--except, naturally our incomes.

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Shelter Fees that Hide in Plain Sight

At first glance, inflation in shelter costs appears less significant than the price hikes for other commodities. But look closer. Most of the other big, bloated items also affect your housing costs. Fuel oil stands out, but also furnishings, utilities, personal care stuff and gas for transportation.  In other words the expenses of living under your own economic umbrella have gone through the roof.

Food for Thought

Unless you’re vegan, your costs for food, (especially sweet cereals and dairy products) keep breaking new heights. Of course, there’s ample evidence that both sugar and dairy (along with processed meat) have long term negative impacts on your health. But now you'll have to pay an ever-increasing price for choosing to risk making yourself more cancer prone.

Other data that I found suggests that the fruits and vegetables category should not have been grouped together. Fresh fruits actually declined slightly in cost. Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries are super food, found in some lab tests to have anti-cancer benefits. Home gardening may finally be turning the economic corner. When it becomes cheaper to grow tomatoes than to buy a can of tomatoes, we may hit the self-sufficiency tipping point.

The Underwater Car

Did you buy a used car in 2021? Woe betides your fortune. Dealers used the pandemic’s disruption of new car production to jack up the price of used models. If you bought one, you probably paid well above the book value. If you bought with cash, it’s best to forget and move on. If you bought with an adjustable rate mortgage, you’re probably “underwater,” owing more on the vehicle than you could get reselling it.

Eating out

There is a silver lining. (I mention this rather sardonically). It’s actually becoming cheaper to eat out than to cook at home, or at least one has costs less inflated than the other. This surprised me because menu prices seem to have gone up astronomically in my home town of Portland, Maine. Maybe we’re special.

Insult to Injury: Your Dwindling Paycheck

On top of all this inflationary pressure, younger generations really are taking home less money than their parents to begin with, then hit with the double whammy of inflation. For example, Zippia.com notes that “When adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum wage of $1.60 in 1968 would be worth nearly $14 today. That means minimum wage earners in 1968 made 93.1% more than their modern counterparts.”

You heard that right. Our lowest paid workers make less than one-tenth what Americans did for the same hours in 1968.

But in the modern economy of temp work, gig jobs, hired contractors and uber drivers, that’s just the starting point. First, you may have no benefits: no healthcare, no 401k, no matching funds. You’re probably not getting raises for inflation to keep up with how much money is actually worth. A couple of inflationary years like 2022, and if you feel like you’re making 20 or 30 percent less than you did before, you’re not wrong.

The Way Out

Where is all this headed? Are we in a “cycle” where income will rise and float all boats to match inflation? That seems like a longshot, given the current political climate, where leveraging cuts to social security incomes and chasing spy balloons seem to be the distractions of the hour. 

We’re being quite literally held down, kept in a childlike state of dependency, by a system that hands most power over to the few. We need some new blood in our political leadership, a shift in the corporate culture of work, and resilient homes and lifestyles we can afford.


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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