Prices are constantly rising for everyday items across the U.S. The main cause of this change is rising gas prices. The gas prices ranging from $3.35 to more than $4 in some areas are an unbelievable reality of everyday living. The problem is that the ever increasing gas price is not just cutting out excess spending for low to middle income families, but it’s causing families to skimp on personal necessities and food. Rising gas prices are pressing families into poverty.
The cost of gas is changing consumer behavior. Right now a family that may have vacationed once or twice a year by plane or car may not be going anywhere because the prices have gone so high that there is no money in the budget for anything beyond ordinary expenses. Don’t let the Christmas figures fool you. Yes, Americans across the U.S. went out in droves to spend their money this past holiday but the fact is that the big spend may simply be the result of an upsurge of spending for people who have been broke over the past several years. The height of economic woe was 2009. In 2010, we saw some of the pain of unemployment ease a bit as companies began hiring again. And in 2011 I think Americans felt comfortable enough to spend again. However, a majority of the American people are still suffering. There are families that are jobless still and feeling the pinch as their unemployment benefits run out. There are families living off of one income to support the entire household. Families are changing their consumption based on what they can afford to buy.
Behavioral changes are noticeable in the grocery store. Families that did not ever consider food stamps have applied and use them if they are currently eligible. Other behavior changes are that people are couponing more. Coupons allow a family to buy more items in bulk with a discount benefit if the store will allow them. This helps because the rising gas price is affecting the food and other items people purchase from the store. Last week a family pack of chicken wings was $7.98 at a leading discount grocery store. This Sunday the same pack of chicken was up $2 to $9.98. Chicken wings did not make the menu. Instead, every other meal becomes a whole chicken purchased at $3.98. The continually rising gas price pushes up the food, milk, and household items prices as these items are shipped around the country. A family with a budget has to cut back on traditional food items, make due, make meals that can expand to second night meals as leftovers.
A week ago the price/per barrel of gas was down but the gas price has gone up as companies attempt to profit more and more from the rising gas price. Consumers have cut as much as they can in unnecessary expenses. Some have even reached the point of being able to buy either gas or groceries, forcing them to take state benefits like the food stamp program to help them feed their family. At the grocery store, people, no longer able to buy the foods they are used to, are able to purchase items they can get in bulk, make more meals out of, and get on coupons. Many are resorting to their mother’s family recipes to get multiple meals out of one food item. Stretching a meal helps families eat more days of the week when they would otherwise go hungry for some meals.
Rising gas prices are breaking the American people. Across the U.S. people are feeling the pain at the pump that started after 9/11 and has never once ended. The steadily rising prices are forcing consumers to change their behaviors and patterns and really redesigning the cultural landscape. Middle income families, embattled and beaten by the economy and joblessness, are becoming low-to-middle income families. Faced with the threat of poverty, Americans are shopping carefully and saving if possible while still paying for the one thing we seem to not be able to live without – gas.
Angelic Jones is a freelance writer for Austin Weekly News.