Grocery prices are skyrocketing, and it couldn't come at a worse time for American households
- Meat and eggs have seen their prices increase by as much as 10% since February as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
- With unemployment stuck near record levels as the US fails to contain the virus, the uptick couldn't come at a worse time for millions of Americans.
- A $600 weekly unemployment bonus expired in July, and lawmakers in Washington D.C. have been slow to agree on how to extend economic aid.
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Grocery bills are getting more expensive for American families at a time when many of them can't afford the price increase.
Overall food prices for "off premises consumption" — which includes groceries — rose about 3.6% on average from April to July, according to newly released government data, but for important pantry staples the increase was even more dramatic.
Since February, Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows, beef and veal prices have spoked 20%, with eggs rising 10%, poultry 9%, and pork 8.5% as supply chains were upended by drastic demand shifts caused by the coronavirus pandemic and outbreaks at processing plants across the country.
Many of the disruptions have smoothed in recent months as farmers, suppliers, and grocery chains adapt to an at-home economy and lack of bulk restaurant orders. Some items, like milk, have actually seen bulk prices decline in response to the shift in behaviour. Still, other products like cleaning supplies remain out of stock as the virus maintains its grip on the Untied States.
In the first three days of August alone, the first month without a $600 weekly unemployment supplement for 17.8 million out-of-work Americans, the US reported more than 156,000 new cases, according to Centers for Disease Control data. The country has had more deaths and cases than any other country in the world as it fails to control the outbreak.
Even as some states begin relax business restrictions, allowing for more jobs to return, the unemployment rate is likely to remain at such high levels for many months to come, the Federal Reserve predicts. That's likely to create even more pain for cash-strained families who are already turning to food pantries in record numbers.
Feeding America, a non-profit group of local food banks, estimates one in six Americans could face hunger as a result of the pandemic, many seeking assistance for the first time. Viral images have shown meandering lines for food giveaways in cities across the country as bills pile up for millions of people.
"Without additional funding, millions of unemployed Americans are at risk of financial insolvency by the end of August," said John Leer, an economist at Morning Consult. By September, that number could surge to 9.2 million, according to the firm.
"As each month passes, it will become increasingly difficult for unemployed workers to use their savings to cover the shortfall in their finances," said Leer.
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