From gas to food to childcare, prices are soaring. And my neighbors feel the pain.
The numbers just don’t add up for my neighbors.
As inflation soars at the highest rate in more than 40 years, many families on the near east side of Indianapolis are struggling a bit more each month to pay the rent, feed their children, buy gas to get to work and back, and even to purchase necessities like soap and laundry detergent.
One mother recently told me she now washes her family’s clothes less often at the laundromat because her budget has been pressed so thin.
When we talk about the pain of inflation, that’s what I see: People struggling and worried – and often doing without necessities – because the cost of living is rising faster than their income.
Inflation hurts almost all of us, but it’s our neighbors living in poverty who bear the worst of the pain. Here’s the scale of the obstacles they now face:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that egg prices will rise about 20% this year. The cost to buy chicken in a grocery store is expected to go up 9%. The price for fresh fruit already has increased more than 18%, and the cost of milk more than 15% from a year ago. Overall, food prices this spring were 9.4% higher than they were in 2020.
- Driving to work, school, the grocery store and the doctor’s office is more expensive than ever as the price of gasoline hovers around $5 a gallon. And used car prices are 16% higher than a year ago, and 50% higher that when the pandemic began in early 2020.
- Rent increased more than 11% on average across the nation last year. Gentrification also has driven up home prices on the east side, which makes it more tempting for landlords to sell rental properties or further raise rents.
- The spike in energy prices is leading to higher gas and electric bills, a trend that will hit people especially hard next winter as they heat their homes. AES already has asked regulators for a rate increase that would push up electric bills in Indianapolis by an average of almost 19%.
- The cost of childcare has increased 41% in the past two years, and some families in Indiana are spending up to 20% of their income to ensure that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment while they’re at work.
The pressure on families trying to keep up with the rising costs is intense – and getting worse. And that pressure is mounting on the heels of a pandemic that left many of my neighbors without work for months and drained what savings they had been able to secure.
As a result, frustration and the loss of hope grow worse each time that the end of the paycheck doesn’t match the end of the month.
I’ll leave the macroeconomic decisions about how to fight inflation to others. As executive director of Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis, I live and work with people who are immersed in the micro responses to the painful realities that the soaring inflation rate has wrought.
In my neighborhood, more people are turning to Gleaners Food Bank, Midwest Food Bank and Second Helpings for help. At Shepherd, we recently expanded our food pantry, with assistance from Gleaners, to provide our neighbors with nutritious staples such as meat, fruit and vegetables, and dairy products.
We also have hosted Gleaners mobile food pantry at Shepherd this summer; one day recently almost 300 cars lined up to receive food.
I’m thankful that corporate partners like One America and Elanco continue to be remarkably generous. They’re making a lasting and measurable difference in lives throughout the city.
And I’m especially thankful for the churches, families and individuals who continue to love my neighbors by sending us volunteers, supplies and money so we can help to meet basic needs.
But those needs continue to grow as the price of seemingly everything rises.
So, I have three messages to offer: First, for my neighbors struggling to pay their bills, please know you’re not alone. Help is available, and a lot of great people and organizations in our city want to do everything they can to assist you and your family in these hard times.
Second, I ask that Gov. Eric Holcomb and members of the Indiana General Assembly approve a proposal to give back $1 billion in surplus revenue to taxpayers when the legislature convenes in a special session this month. It’s estimated that individuals would receive about $225 and married couples who file taxes jointly would get back $450. Many of my neighbors could use the refund to buy food and pay the rent. And if you are blessed enough not to need the refund, please consider donating the money to organizations that are helping your neighbors in need.
Third, for those of us who have the resources to weather this new economic storm, please consider what you can do to help. Loving our neighbors is a calling in bad times and good. But they especially need our love and help now.
We may not have the means ourselves to whip inflation. But working together, we can ease the pain it’s inflicting on our neighbors and our city.
Jay Height is executive director of Shepherd Community Center Indianapolis.
This column by Jay Height was originally published by The Indianapolis Star on July 12, 2022.