But I would be surprised if a media narrative were the full story. What else might explain the dissatisfaction? Even if you forget about inflation, the experience of living and working in the U.S. economy is often unpleasant right now.
Among the problems: Public buses and subways are unreliable, mostly because of Covid absences, lengthening commutes. School buses and after-school activities are unreliable, creating child-care gaps. Grocery stores are routinely out of items. Retail lines are long. Doctor’s appointments can be hard to get.
A tough problem
In coming months, inflation is likely to decline. Much of the pandemic stimulus is expiring, and the Federal Reserve will be raising interest rates, as several top officials emphasized yesterday. The Biden administration is also taking steps to increase the supply of goods. It has encouraged ports to remain open and tried to increase the pool of truck drivers, by expanding apprenticeships and reducing licensing wait times.
“We are working aggressively with the private sector to increase throughput in the ports, and we’re posting real results,” Jared Bernstein, a member of the President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, told me. “A key part of that is our trucking action plan, to improve the quality and quantity of those jobs.”
Still, it remains unclear how far inflation will decline this year. “It’s a very difficult problem for them to address,” my colleague Ana Swanson, who covers economic policy, said. Some economists have pointed out that inflation is now so high that it could decline in coming months while remaining uncomfortably high.
Ultimately, I think it makes sense to think of inflation not as a narrow economic problem but as part of something larger. American life remains highly abnormal because of the pandemic’s disruption to daily life. By many measures — mental health, suicide attempts, blood pressure, violent crime, vehicle crashes, student learning — society is not functioning very well. An inflation rate high enough to shrink paychecks is another item on that list, and hardly the most important one.
No wonder most Americans have grown frustrated, including with Biden. People’s living standards and even physical well-being are suffering. A disproportionate toll is falling on low-income families and children.