Viewpoint

Food prices keep rising, but salaries stagnating

Prices for basic staples such as dairy and eggs have been rising recently.
Prices for basic staples such as dairy and eggs have been rising recently. AP

I was under the impression that most bosses hadn’t been handing out raises – except to themselves. Not so. While shopping at my neighborhood supermarket in Fort Washington recently, I noticed that some of my favorite foods got raises.

Chicken got a raise – a 2 percent price hike just in the last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Pork chops got a raise – up 7.4 percent last year.

Beef got a raise – a 19 percent increase last year.

All of which amounts to a pay cut for me, and to quite a few others. According to a report last month by the Economic Policy Institute, “real hourly wages have declined for 90 percent of the workforce with four-year college degrees since 2007.” It’s called wage stagnation.

How much harder must it be for low-income and unemployed people to put food on the table.

The USDA puts out annual cost estimates for preparing nutritious meals. Under the “Thrifty” plan, which is the least expensive, a family of four could eat healthfully for $151.60 a week.

Judging from the prices I saw at the supermarket, they’ll be eating ramen noodles every other night.

“The most notable annual inflation increases were seen in the perimeter of the grocery store – retail beef and veal, pork, eggs, fish and seafood, dairy, and fresh fruit experienced above-average price increases,” according to a USDA Research Service update on March 3.

I did find a few bargains in the center aisles at the Safeway and Giant where I usually shop: sugar, cookies, chips, processed snacks, soft drinks. Diabetes at discount prices.

Some economists predict that rising employment could lead to a 3 percent increase in hourly wages this year. From the perspective of a grocery shopper, that would mean the average worker’s pay hike would be about one-tenth of the 30 percent rise in the cost of peanut butter since 2010.

The EPI calls wage stagnation “the country’s central economic challenge.” Suggested fixes include raising the minimum wage, strengthening workers’ right to collective bargaining and ensuring that employees can earn paid sick leave and paid family leave.

Others have suggestions that the boss likely would find more appealing – such as giving employees a compliment instead of cash. According to results of an employee satisfaction survey, released last week to coincide with Employee Appreciation Day, hearing the boss say “good job” produces the same feeling as a modest raise.

“Many organizations turn to unique perks, pay raises, and benefits to keep employees happy, but creating a culture of gratitude could be just as impactful,” according to Kronos, a global workforce management software company headquartered in Massachusetts that commissioned the survey.

“The power of ‘thank you’ cannot be underestimated.”

Of course, before leaving the supermarket, I was reminded that a thank you does not pay the grocery bill.

Milloy is a columnist for the Washington Post.

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