As inflation soars, black families are bearing the brunt of rising food, gas and home prices

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Johnson said she’s been trying to save money by cooking more at home and packing her husband’s lunches instead of eating out at restaurants. The Metro Atlanta couple put off buying a home after seeing a surge in home prices over the past year. Elementary school teacher Johnson also worries about being able to afford increasingly expensive childcare across the country.

“I’m just concerned about the quality of life,” Johnson, 33, said. “You already have nervousness about being a new parent.

Like many other black families, Johnson and her husband are bearing the brunt of inflation — with prices rising to the highest rates the US has seen in more than 40 years. Researchers say black families will suffer the worst effects of rising inflation because they lag behind their white counterparts in income, wealth, financial savings and home ownership.

Inequality is leaving many black Americans without the means to offset rising consumer prices and putting greater pressure on their monthly income, economists say. Some economists fear that black families could be forced to go without essentials unless lawmakers act soon to tackle inflation amid the threat of another recession.

“It’s going to be extremely devastating,” said William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, African American studies and economics at Duke University. “People are going to have to make very, very tough decisions about whether to buy medicine or buy groceries or not pay their utilities. This will have a hard impact on people’s well-being.”

Darity said the nation’s wealth gap has made it difficult for black families to maintain financial savings or transfer wealth across generations, as many white families have been able to do. He said racist policies like redlining and depriving former slaves of their promised land have historically set black Americans back.

According to the Brookings Institute, the median wealth of a white household is $188,200, which is 7.8 times more than the average black household of $24,100. In 2019, the homeownership rate for white Americans was about 73%, compared to 42% for black Americans.
Darity is calling on lawmakers to introduce a federal job guarantee that would provide any adult seeking employment with a job with decent wages and secure working conditions. This would help black families stay afloat, Darity said.
President Joe Biden insists that fighting inflation remains his top priority, but he faces an uphill battle with a tightly divided Senate that has blocked most of Biden’s domestic political agenda.

“The problem is that the Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to stop my plans to lower the costs of ordinary families. So my plan isn’t ready and the results aren’t ready either,” Biden said earlier this month.

A disproportionate impact on black families

Some research suggests that black households are more vulnerable to changes in inflation than white households.

A study published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that necessities like groceries, electricity, and wireless phone service account for a larger portion of black families’ budgets. Black households also spend a larger proportion of their income on goods and services, the price of which changes more frequently, according to the study.

Munseob Lee, an economist at the University of California-San Diego who co-authored the study, said many black Americans also live in food deserts and pay higher prices for groceries in convenience stores. Inflation only increases the price of these convenience store items, Lee said. It’s also forcing black shoppers to travel to dad’s to shop, meaning they’re subject to higher gas prices, he said.

“If the prices paid by white households increase by 7% over a year, according to our calculations, you can expect them to increase by 7.5% for black households,” the study states as an example.

Johnson, the Atlanta mother, noted that if Americans didn’t get a raise at work, inflation would mean a pay cut.

“I think a lot about money and I think a lot about finance and I wonder if our salaries are going to start adjusting[to the rate of inflation],” Johnson said.

“It costs more to be poor”

Some nonprofits are stepping in to help families put food on the table as inflation continues.

Elizabeth Omilami, CEO of Atlanta-based Hosea Helps, said she’s seen a 40% increase in the number of families she serves weekly grocery boxes to since April.

Omilami said she’s also been overwhelmed by requests from people who need help paying their rent. Many families, she said, are struggling with inflation because someone in the household lost their job during the pandemic or they are seniors on a steady income. Other families say their food stamps aren’t enough to meet rising grocery costs, Omilami said.

Well, riders, we have good news and bad news about gasoline
“It’s so sad to see how people who have worked all their lives are putting their taxes into this country’s economy and now they can’t benefit from it,” Omilami said. “When you see black families making 15% less than the average white family and you see them shopping because they live in food deserts near these convenience stores where everything is more expensive than it is in a supermarket … then costs there be more money poor.”

One mom from suburban Atlanta said she needs to make big adjustments to where she shops for groceries and what her family eats.

Crystal Smith, a single mother of four, said she now spends more time comparing prices at different stores to see how she can save money. She recently decided to cook chicken over a seafood cooker for her family because it was the cheaper meal.

The price of gas is also taking its toll on her budget, said Smith, who works as a talent acquisition manager. She commutes 30 minutes to work and it costs $75 to fill up her tank. Before inflation, Smith said she only paid about $28 for a full tank.

“It’s one of those things where you definitely sit back and wonder how you can cut costs,” Smith said. “We really are in such a difficult time and we need to start making difficult decisions, especially in the African American community.”

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