My grip tightened on the cart as I turned it down the frozen food aisle in the grocery store. I looked down at my list and over to the calculator on my phone. I’d calculated the cost of every item in my cart and made sure it came in under my budget. I pulled my cart over in the frozen food aisle and looked at the couple in front of me. The woman in worn jeans and an over-sized t-shirt leaned against the cart with her list gripped in one hand, a pen in the other. Her phone rested on top of her worn purse as she tapped on it with her thumb. Her long hair fell into her face as she looked back at the list on the paper. Her eyebrow furrowed as she looked up. Her husband with a hole in the knee of his jeans, and a few tiny holes in his white stained t-shirt went back and forth in front of the frozen items. “Are you sure we can afford?”
“I think so,” she mumbled and then, “Yes, we can afford just one of those. But if you want the bread we have to put back the other.” With that they moved out of the aisle.
In the past most of the conversations I heard couples have in stores revolved around if they really were going to get an item. Or if a person was using their phone the conversation predominantly went, “Do you want the one that has this, or is it that item I need to get?” I’d heard that conversation at the grocery store so much that it faded into the background. Then one day I noticed the background hum had started to fade. I started to notice an increase in the number of couples shopping together and a different conversation; “are you sure we can afford that?”, “this store sure raised its prices”, “the coupons sure aren’t as good as they used to be,” “sure can’t get much here anymore for the amount spent”, and “the price went up, we can’t get that now.”
With the exception of at the pharmacy window. There the conversation between the patient and pharmacist over the price of a prescription has become more frequent. Usually it starts with a comment about the ever skyrocketing price of medication; or a question about how they could save money. Sometimes they simply refuse the prescription because it is food, rent, or medication for the month.
In some stores that primarily import products I have seen store shelves empty. Store associates have told me that their buyers are having trouble finding products or deals. What they don’t mention is the costs going up due to the 10%, or more, duty on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. The first round of tariffs caused an in-direct impact on the cost of goods because they were on the industrial goods and intermediate parts that went into the final goods sold to consumers. The $200 billion and 10% duty went onto the finished products. More than 5,000 products are impacted. That added onto the normal rise in grocery store prices due to inflation, the increase in the interest rate to 2-2.25% it is no wonder things cost more. Small and medium size businesses are also feeling the pinch due to their rents being increased. All those costs are passed to the consumer. In some cases the small businesses close reducing competition.
I hear comments about the cost of everything, especially of food; in every part of the store now more than ever. I hear it most on the outside aisle; where the fresh minimally processed food, like produce, is located. The food that people are told they should buy to have a nutritious diet; is slowly moving out of the reach of their pocket book. It is accompanied by people tapping on their phones, looking at the paper they hold in their other hand, and the item. At the top of the paper a number is circled. They sigh, their shoulders drop, and their eyes droop. They shake their heads and put items back when they can’t afford them anymore.
When the dollar doesn’t go as far as it did just a few weeks ago and the middle class fades away.