White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain issued a strong endorsement last week of a tweet claiming inflation and supply chain issues affecting the country are “high class problems.”
The tweet was written by Harvard professor Jason Furman who served as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama. Klain enthusiastically retweeted it saying, “This,” with two emoji hands pointing downward.
Is it true that inflation and supply chain issues are mostly “high class problems”?
False. Completely make believe.
Inflation is skyrocketing, with spikes not seen since the Great Recession of 2008. As prices for gas, bacon, clothes, hotels and motels rise by double digits, the poor, elderly, and minority families are hit hardest. The result of the current pace of inflation is that Americans’ earnings are getting wiped out and low and minimum-wage workers are poorer than they have been in decades.
Take what happened to the Dollar Tree. The discount retailer recently announced that higher freight costs — one element in rising inflation affecting consumer prices nationwide — are forcing the company to abandon its one-dollar-per-item policy.
As my colleague Patrice Onwuka wrote in The Washington Post, “As Americans struggled financially during the coronavirus pandemic, foot traffic increased at discount stores. They made 10 percent to 30 percent more in-store visits to stores including Dollar General and Dollar Tree in July 2021 compared with July 2019. Dollar-store visits also significantly outpaced foot traffic at Walmart.”
With more Americans relying on discount stores such as Dollar Tree, each dollar is buying them less. Adding to those challenges, Onwuka wrote,
“Even seemingly good economic news has a way of souring: Hourly wages are inching upward as employers scramble for workers, but inflation saps the benefits from the increase; in July, CNBC reported that ‘inflation essentially gave the average worker about a 2% pay cut.’
Now imagine being a low-wage worker who has to drive to that job: The price of gas has nearly doubled since April 2020 — a major factor in the Consumer Price Index increase announced on Wednesday.”
Inflation is also hitting retirees, who are watching the value of their savings accounts dwindle. Sure, it’s also affecting the savings of “high class” Americans, but they’ve got room to adjust.
The Biden administration claims to fight for working Americans, and has promised not to raise taxes on families making below $400,000. While not a tax in the traditional sense, inflation hits Americans in a regressive fashion. Lower-income families spend a greater share of their budget than wealthier families on everyday goods and services like food, housing, and health care.
The White House’s suggestion that the struggle to pay for gas, home heat, clothes and groceries is a “high class problem” is not only false, but insulting and out-of-touch. The rich have plenty of cash to pay a few bucks more. Working Americans, meanwhile, are getting squeezed.