Friday, October 19, 2007

Guns & Butter or Nothing

NEW YORK (AP) -- The calculus of living paycheck to paycheck in America is getting harder.

What used to last four days might last half that long now. Pay the gas bill, but skip breakfast. Eat less for lunch so the kids can have a healthy dinner.

Across the nation, Americans are increasingly unable to stretch their dollars to the next payday as they juggle higher rent, food and energy bills. It's starting to affect middle-income working families as well as the poor, and has reached the point of affecting day-to-day calculations of merchants like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7-Eleven Inc. and Family Dollar Stores Inc.

Food pantries, which distribute foodstuffs to the needy, are reporting severe shortages and reduced government funding at the very time that they are seeing a surge of new people seeking their help.

While economists debate whether the country is headed for a recession, some say the financial stress is already the worst since the last downturn at the start of this decade.

From Family Dollar to Wal-Mart, merchants have adjusted their product mix and pricing accordingly. Sales data show a marked and more prolonged drop in spending in the days before shoppers get their paychecks, when they buy only the barest essentials before splurging around payday.

"It's pretty pronounced," said Kiley Rawlins, a spokeswoman at Family Dollar. "It seems like to us, customers are running out of food products, paper towels sooner in the month."

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said the imbalance in spending before and after payday in July was the biggest it has ever seen, though the drop-off wasn't as steep in August.

"It even costs more to get the basics like soap and laundry detergent," said Michelle Grassia, who lives with her husband and three teenage children in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York.

Her husband's check from his job at a grocery store used to last four days. "Now, it lasts only two," she said.

To make up the difference, Grassia buys one gallon of milk a week instead of three. She sometimes skips breakfast and lunch to make sure there's enough food for her children. She cooks with a hot plate because gas is too expensive. And she depends more than ever on the bags of free vegetables and powdered milk from a local food pantry.

Grassia's story is neither new nor unique. With the fastest-rising food and energy prices since the 1980s, low-income consumers are stretching their budgets by eating cheap foods like peanut butter and pasta.


Anonymous said...

It's getting ugly; I'm seeing hungry kids at school and the cafeteria provisions for them are inadequate. Not only that, school food (in my neck of the woods) is now being charged by the item and there are NO second helpings allowed even if there is credit in the account.

There's something very eerie about this food situation. I don't think the majority have caught on yet to the shrinking volumes and weights and rising prices. The whole bleeping checkout process is designed to grab our money and leave our objections to the customer service line, if we ever have the time to review the receipt we were shoved to the wall with to put in our pocket. Even if we do try to figure out what we were charged, there are no prices on the items for comparison.

I had hoped to see my youngest child off without resurrecting the old cream (light) tuna on (cheap bread) toast but it was not to be. What really pisses me off is when the alt sites sermonize on eating organic. Many average workers would love to have the choice, but as your piece pointed out, they do not. Many still kidding themselves about finances are those who buy the store brand organics.

Kathy F.

Kate-A said...

Agree it's eerie. I've noticed in my area over the last couple of months in grocery stores there is less selection, and fresh fruits/veggies rot in the bins.

It's been tradition the last few years for me to cook Sunday dinner for extended family and friends and have noticed the price of this meal tripled in the past year. Fortunately, we can do it but I've realized only recently that for a couple of guests it's the main meal of their week and that so pisses me off they're in this situation, through no fault of their own. I have an elderly uncle who borrows $50 every month, paying it back when he gets his SS check. He tries to joke about it now when he calls with "do you still that $50 with my name on it?" I know asking is a big bruise on his pride and it breaks my heart.

I've always had young kids checking to see if I have odd jobs or yard work to do but in the last couple of years it's been older men with their kid.

Folks who only a few years ago were doing okay with the basics are struggling harder now in my area.

Our local schools cafeterias, 2-3 years ago, changed as you mentioned. I looked up the company that had received the new contract for this region and it was, surprise, a company in Texas. Likely, the contractors will change again if and when Democrats take the WH. It may not be any better for school kids - just the other cheek on the corporate ass and all that, etc.

Only this past year here in Podunk have the stores begun to carry "organic" food. Fortunately, we still have access to homegrown veggies and free range meat here as a few country folks still do that for extra income.

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