At a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway in Fort Worth, inflation is on everyone’s mind
Surging inflation is the side-effect of a fast-recovering economy, but families without a financial cushion are eyeing the trend with trepidation. For many, fast-rising gas and food prices mean figuring out what to cut from the household budget to cover basic needs.
Even before 7 a.m. on Friday — and with a freeze warning still in effect — a free turkey was worth the wait.
More than 100 people lined up outside a grocery store in Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood. As the day warmed, more than 1,000 people had shown up.
Inflation is an inconvenience for the worried well or perhaps just something to complain about. But for families living paycheck to paycheck, rising gas and food prices threaten to push them over the edge.
For Kerryanne Daley, scoring a free turkey for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner helps defray the rising prices she’s been paying for groceries. Meat, especially, is taxing the family budget.
“Inflation is going up, and I don’t want to be stuck not being able to afford to pay my bills,” Daley said.
Right behind her in the grocery store line, Rosa Flores nodded vigorously.
“Everything. Everything’s gone up … from what you were paying a few months ago to now,” Flores said. “You can’t splurge on the things you normally do, you just buy what you need.”
At 66, she said she spends a lot more time comparison shopping to save money. When she found a gas station last week charging less than $3 per gallon, she called everyone she could think of to tell them to go fill up.
Top dollar for turkeys
U.S. consumer prices have soared recently, with inflation reaching a 30-year high in October. Food prices were 5.3% higher last month than they were in October of 2020. Electricity and home heating costs have grown faster.
Gasoline prices are more volatile. After dropping significantly at the beginning of the pandemic, a gallon of regular gasoline in Texas has increased more than $1 compared to this time last year.
Holiday inflation may be even stronger: Putting Thanksgiving dinners on the table is expected to cost about 14% more this year than it did last year.
Amy Witherite’s Witherite Law Group has given away 1,000 turkeys every Thanksgiving for more than a decade. This year, she partnered with the Fiesta Mart grocery chain and Fort Worth ISD’s Family Action Center in Stop Six.
Witherite said she’s never paid this much for turkey.
This year’s birds were $1.50 per pound, she said. The highest per-pound price she’d ever paid before was $1.29, when the bird flu killed millions of turkeys in 2015 before the holiday.
“Having to pay an additional $5, much less $20, for a meal, or just on your regular trips to the grocery store or at the gas pump, really can be crippling for families,” Witherite said.
Jerry Vanden oversees Fiesta Mart grocery stores in Fort Worth and Arlington. He said supply chain problems have made some products, like meats, more expensive. Others are just hard to keep stocked.
Beyond the supply chain, there are the increased costs of keeping the store running.
“Anything you see at home — your gas prices, your electric prices, all of that — the magnitude of that is even greater for the businesses,” Vanden said.
Labor is also expensive, too. Entry-level pay has gone up by $1- $2 per hour compared to pre-pandemic wages, he said. And Fiesta, like a lot of companies, is struggling to find enough workers to fill vacant jobs, so it’s paying more overtime to meet increased demand.
‘Transitory,’ but troubling
Economists are mixed about how long high inflation rates will be with us, but most caution that they are temporary.
Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics argued in an essay that “uncomfortably high inflation” is adding an estimated $200 a month to the living costs of the typical American household. But it’s likely to be a thing of the past come this time next year, as the economy continues to normalize.
“The hair-on-fire discourse over high inflation is understandable, but it's overdone,” he wrote.
Arthur Jeffery, a 65-year-old Stop Six resident picking up a turkey on Friday, doesn’t have much faith in the forecast.
“I hear them saying it, but I don’t see it. The proof is in the pudding. The prices are steady rising, and that’s proof,” Jeffery said.
Jeffery sees inflation in the cup of coffee he sipped to stay warm while waiting for a turkey. His small cup cost more this morning than a larger cup did a few months ago, he said. He sees it in the increased need among his neighbors.
An estimated 2.2 million Texans aren’t getting enough food to eat, according to Census Bureau statistics. That’s up significantly from the summer, a troubling trend amid an improving economy and robust federal stimulus spending.
Carlos Walker, who runs Fort Worth ISD’s Family Action Center, helped deliver turkeys to elderly Stop Six residents who couldn’t make it to the giveaway. The center connects families in southeast Fort Worth to health services, food assistance, housing help and job training programs.
“Pre-pandemic, we were servicing 300 to 400 families per semester,” Walker said. “Now, that has quadrupled.”
Rental assistance, extra cash from child tax credits and other pandemic-related federal support is helping, Walker said.
“However, when you’re playing catch up, it’s never enough."
KERA’s One Crisis Away project is supported in part by grants from Communities Foundation of Texas and Texas Women’s Foundation.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.
Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at email@example.com.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.