Vulnerable Hoosiers are feeling the sting of soaring inflation
The numbers just don’t match my neighbors.
As inflation climbs to the highest rate in more than 40 years, many families in Near East Indianapolis are struggling a little more each month to pay rent, feed their children, buy gas to get to and from work and even to buy necessities such as soap and laundry detergent.
A mother recently told me that she washes her family’s clothes less often in the laundromat because her budget is so tight.
When talking about the pain of inflation, that’s what I see: people struggling and worrying – and often going without the necessities – because the cost of living is rising faster than their income.
Inflation hurts almost all of us, but it’s our neighbors who live in poverty who bear the brunt of it. Here is the scale of the obstacles they now face:
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- The United States Department of Agriculture predicts that the price of eggs will increase by about 20% this year. The cost of buying chicken in a grocery store is expected to increase by 9%. The price of fresh fruit has already increased by more than 18% and the cost of milk by more than 15% compared to a year ago. Overall, food prices this spring were 9.4% higher than they were in 2020.
- Driving to work, school, the grocery store and the doctor is more expensive than ever, as gas prices hover around $5 a gallon. And used car prices are 16% higher than a year ago and 50% higher than when the pandemic hit in early 2020.
- Rent rose by more than 11% on average across the country last year. Gentrification has also pushed up house prices on the east side, making it more tempting for landlords to sell rental properties or raise rents further.
- Soaring energy prices are leading to higher gas and electric bills, a trend that will particularly affect people next winter when they heat their homes. AES has already asked regulators for a rate hike that would drive up Indianapolis power bills by nearly 19% on average.
- The cost of childcare has risen 41% over the past two years, and some Indiana families are spending up to 20% of their income to ensure their children are in a safe and nurturing environment. while they are at work.
The pressure on families trying to cope with rising costs is intense and getting worse. And that pressure is mounting on the heels of a pandemic that has left many of my neighbors out of work for months and depleted any savings they may have had.
As a result, the frustration and loss of hope increases each time the end of the pay does not correspond to the end of the month.
I will leave the macroeconomic decisions on how to fight inflation to others. As Executive Director of the Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis, I live and work with people who are immersed in the micro-responses to the painful realities that the spike in the rate of inflation has spawned.
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In my neighborhood, more and more people are turning to Gleaners Food Bank, Midwest Food Bank, and Second Helpings for help. At Shepherd, we recently expanded our pantry, with the help of Gleaners, to provide our neighbors with nutritious staples such as meats, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products.
We also hosted the Gleaners mobile pantry in Shepherd this summer; one day recently, nearly 300 cars lined up to receive food.
I am grateful that corporate partners like One America and Elanco continue to be remarkably generous. They make a lasting and measurable difference in the life of the whole city.
And I’m especially grateful to the churches, families, and individuals who continue to love my neighbors by sending us volunteers, supplies, and money so we can help meet basic needs.
But those needs continue to grow as the price of everything seems to rise.
So, I have three messages to offer: First, for my neighbors who are struggling to pay their bills, please know that you are not alone. Help is available, and many great people and organizations in our city want to do everything they can to help you and your family during these difficult times.
Second, I’m asking Governor Eric Holcomb and members of the Indiana General Assembly to approve a proposal to return $1 billion in excess revenue to taxpayers when the legislature meets in special session this month. It is estimated that individuals would receive about $225 and married couples filing taxes jointly would get back $450. Many of my neighbors could use the refund to buy food and pay rent. And if you’re lucky enough not to need the refund, please consider donating the money to organizations that help your neighbors in need.
Third, for those of us who have the resources to weather this new economic storm, please consider what you can do to help. Loving our neighbors is a calling in bad times and good. But they especially need our love and help now.
We may not have the wherewithal to whip inflation ourselves. But by working together, we can lessen the pain it inflicts on our neighbors and our city.
Jay Height is executive director of the Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis.