Tuesday, 5 July, 2022

US inflation skyrockets, piling pressure on Biden

WASHINGTON: US inflation surged to a new four-decade high in May, defying hopes that price pressures had peaked and deepening President Joe Biden's political troubles as Americans struggle to meet the cost of essentials like food and gas.

Government data released Friday put inflation at 8.6%, extending increases not seen for a generation, with gas prices hitting daily records fueled by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and supply chain challenges related to the pandemic, reports AFP.

Biden, whose popularity has taken a hit as prices surge just months before November's midterm elections, has made fighting inflation his top domestic priority but is finding he has few tools to directly affect prices.

"I'm doing everything in my power to blunt Putin's price hike and bring down the price of gas and food," he said Friday while speaking at the Port of Los Angeles.

"We're better positioned (than) just about any country in the world to overcome the global inflation we're seeing and to take the next step towards forming a historic recovery."

The president has tried to hammer home his optimistic message about economic progress in the wake of the pandemic, including rapid GDP growth and record job creation, while pressing Congress to take action to lower costs on specific products.

Biden cited releasing 30 million barrels of reserve oil and repeated his call to approve legislation to go after firms such as shipping companies that are taking advantage of limited competition to impose steep price hikes.

But he acknowledged the rising inflation was a severe problem, saying in an earlier statement the United States "must do more -- and quickly -- to get prices down."

The new data dealt a crushing blow to Biden's efforts, as the consumer price index (CPI) jumped 8.6 percent compared to May 2021, up from 8.3 percent in the 12 months ending in April and topping what most economists thought was the peak of 8.5 percent in March.

Prices continued to rise last month for goods including housing, groceries, airline fares and used and new vehicles, setting new records in multiple categories, according to the Labor Department report.

"The headline inflation numbers are dreadful. Strip away some special factors & they're merely bad," Harvard economist and former White House advisor Jason Furman said on Twitter.

Some economists expected the easing of pandemic restrictions to cause a shift of US consumer demand towards services and away from goods, which they said would ease inflation pressures, but prices for services increased as well.

CPI rose one percent compared to April, after the modest 0.3 percent gain in the prior month, the Labor Department reported, far higher than expected by analysts.

Energy has soared 34.6 percent over the past year, the fastest since September 2005, while food jumped 10.1 percent -- the first increase of more than 10 percent since March 1981, the report said.