Dwayne Fair, 58. got a bad case of sticker shock when he decided to give his house a facelift (Philadelphia Tribune photo).
By Stephen Williams
PHILADELPHIA — Last year, Dwayne Fair bought a home in North Philadelphia from that needed some work. Fair, 58, who works in the home remodeling business, decided to do the repairs himself. “It needed a face lift,” he said.
But lately, Fair noticed the price of raw materials, such as wood, sheet rock and electric wiring have all nearly doubled.
“The two-by-fours that used we used to pay about $3.95 for, they are now about $8 a piece,” Fair said. “It’s crazy.”
“Sheet rock, electric wiring has almost doubled in price.” So Fair decided to slow down the process and spread out the work to spend less.
“It’s hitting pretty hard for anyone that’s working on home remodeling,” said Fair said, who has worked in the business for about 10 years.
“Gasoline is astronomical and food is going up,” Fair said. “You cut back on a lot of luxuries, like dining out movies and sometimes even cut down on cable. This inflation thing is out of control. In general, many people are just living paycheck to paycheck.”
Fair, who purchased his home from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, after renting for years, is not alone.
In March, inflation rose 8.5 percent, compared with the same month in 2021, the biggest jump in four decades, as millions of Americans were hit hard by the cost of food, gasoline, housing and other consumer goods. The higher prices eliminated any pay increases that many people received.
“Because of the global pandemic and because of the war in Ukraine, we have all of these different pain points in terms of prices and the economy,” said Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, in an interview with The Philadelphia Tribune.
William Raymond, a deacon at Bright Hope Baptist Church, at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Aveune, said the church offers free food several days a week including cooked lunches, groceries and produce and delivers food from Monday through Friday for people who are ill or unable to leave their homes.
This year, more than 60 people a day take advantage of it, compared with about 10 to 15 people a day in 2021, Raymond said.
Michelle Williams, who is out of work, said that inflation has forced her to make tough choices, such as making partial payments on monthly bills and substituting some of her favorites foods for less expensive meals.
“It’s definitely affected the way I shop and pay my bills,” Williams said. “It puts me in jeopardy for shutoff notices. I hope something is done soon because the thought of being homeless is terrifying.”
Tyler Young, program manager for Clarifi, a financial counseling service in Philadelphia that serves the Delaware Valley, said the need definitely has changed in this high inflation environment.
For example, a family of six can have a monthly food bill that’s between $800 and $1,000.
“We are seeing clients needing to rework their budget,” Tyler said. “Their paycheck or Social Security check cannot pay for their monthly expenses. People have been relying on credit cards a lot more.”
The non-profit group provides mostly low-moderate families and individuals with budgeting, savings and credit counseling.
“We got new data and one of the things that really popped from that data is that 70% of the inflation in March was due to rising energy costs and 60% was due to rising gas prices,” said Boushey of the Council of Economic Advisors.
Asked what the government is doing to ease the pain, she said the Biden administration had already authorized the release of a million barrels a day from the strategic petroleum reserve, to add supply and help lower the cost of gasoline.
According to Boushey, President Joe Biden said last week he would allow gas stations to increase the amount of ethanol, a gasoline additive, up to 15 percent, to lower prices by as much as 10 cents a gallon for some consumers, because ethanol is cheaper than oil.
“He is really focused on the whole of government approach to figure out all of the different ways that we can control costs for families,” Boushey said.
In July 2021, Biden issued an executive order directing the Federal Trade Commission and other federal agencies to take a look at a number of industries, such as food and gas, to make sure that there isn’t any price gouging or anti-competitive behavior going on.
“He has made it clear that in this moment of need, folks should not be unduly raising prices,” Boushey said. “We want to make sure that every family that is eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, can get them and we are extending the student loan payment relief.”
Despite rising prices, the U.S. economy remains strong.
In March, the unemployment rate dropped to an historic low to 3.6 percent, down from 6 percent in March 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last week, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO, said the economy is growing. He listed double-digit growth in credit card spending and low consumer debt.
But the JPMorganChase also said it was putting aside $900 million in case the economy goes south. In the previous year, the bank set aside $5.2 billion for loan losses in early months of the pandemic.
According to Dimon, the Russian war against Ukraine and the highest inflation in 40 years are risks that, while relatively low, could cause a recession.
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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