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When assessing inflation, it’s not just the data, it’s also the narrative

Kimberly Adams May 17, 2024
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According to the Congressional Budget Office, purchasing power went up across all income groups because incomes grew faster than prices between 2019 and 2023. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

When assessing inflation, it’s not just the data, it’s also the narrative

Kimberly Adams May 17, 2024
Heard on:
According to the Congressional Budget Office, purchasing power went up across all income groups because incomes grew faster than prices between 2019 and 2023. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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Inflation numbers came in better than expected this week, and they’re the latest in several months of data showing that price growth has slowed down. Another way to look at inflation came out from the Congressional Budget Office this week, looking at the issue from the lens of purchasing power.

The CBO found that if you look at the same basket of goods from pre-pandemic to 2023, on average, Americans need less of their income to buy the same set of stuff. But if that just feels a bit off to you, I get it.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, purchasing power went up across all income groups because incomes grew faster than prices between 2019 and 2023.

“That kind of goes against the common perception of what’s going on is that people are losing purchasing power over the last few years,” said Vance Ginn who is president of Ginn Economic Consulting and was a White House chief economist during the Trump administration.

The CBO found, percentage-wise, folks in the highest income bracket spent less of their income on common expenses — down 6.3%, thank you stock market.

Folks in the lower income brackets weren’t so lucky. They saw only a two percent drop in how much they spent on basics, thanks to higher wages.

But for people in the middle, it was even less noticeable.

“And that’s why I think they’ve been, kind of, not being able to be as prosperous as some of the others during this period,” said Ginn.

Plus these numbers reflect averages, not people’s individual experiences. And that’s where narratives really come into play, especially in an election year.

“We did go through a period of about 18 months of very elevated inflation. But it’s also true that prices today are rising roughly in line with previous historical experience,” said Michael Linden, a Senior Policy Fellow at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

And in campaign ads and in stump speeches we’ll probably end up hearing versions of both inflation stories, amplified in whichever direction benefits the candidate talking.

“And I think that the American people are going to have to decide when they hear about inflation, which of those two things is more important to them,” said Linden.

And whose narrative about the economy you choose to believe.

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