Jun 20, 2022 - Economy

Caution: Bummer summer ahead

Illustration of a dollar sign anchor dragging through the sand

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

This is the least pandemic-y summer in two years, but inflation is dragging down the celebration.

Why it matters: Most Americans are now getting their first taste of living in a high-inflation environment — and they don't like it.

Prices are up nearly across the board for a lot of things we love to do in the summer, including:

Regular gas prices now average $5/gallon, per AAA — and well over that in some parts of the country. Even if your pay has kept up with inflation (and not everyone's has), the sticker shock can be demoralizing.

  • "It just feels bad to spend $5 when you're used to spending $3," said Carola Conces Binder, an economics professor at Haverford College.

Dining out: For those who've taken a two-year break, there's a bit of a Rip Van Winkle effect when it comes to eating at restaurants.

  • Menu prices are eye-popping, and there's more sticker shock when the check arrives — restaurants are adding "service fees" and tacking on extra charges, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Driving the news: The government's Consumer Price Index shows average prices rose 8.6% over the last year — a level last seen in the 1970s, an era known for such mood-dulling terms as stagflation and malaise.

  • "If you're a millennial and all you've ever known was a 2% rate of inflation, this is really bad," economist Richard Curtin told Axios earlier this year.
  • From 1976 until just recently, Curtin ran the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey — an influential indicator, which measures mood, that recently hit its lowest point since it started in 1952.

On the other hand: While rising prices are starting to pinch  and for some lower-income earners, the pain is a lot worse than that — there are reasons to be cheerful.

  • The unemployment rate is low and Americans are doing substantially better than folks in many corners of the world.

Plus: You could theoretically spend your summer sipping AriZona iced tea and eating Costco roast chicken while reading books — three products with stable prices.

The bottom line: The American economy runs on people spending money — it's 70% of economic activity, after all — and for most of us there's nowhere to run from rising prices.

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