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Yes, inflation has slowed, but business is still paying the price – and so are you

By April 21, 2024No Comments

(This column originally appeared in The Guardian)

Consumer prices ticked up again in March, rising to anywhere from 3.2% to 3.8% year-over-year, depending on the rate you’re tracking. Of course, that’s way down from what it was back in 2022. But don’t tell that to any of my clients — or people running businesses in just about every industry across the country. For them, prices are not only rising but are significantly — significantly! — higher than they were when Joe Biden took office.

Want some examples?

This didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken a few years. For businesses around the country, today’s inflation isn’t the problem. The dramatic rise in just about every core material and overhead cost that it takes to make and deliver products and services? Yeah, that’s the real problem.

None of this is news to anyone running a business. I share this information with associations and business groups representing industries from all over and the audience just nods their heads in solemn agreement (before heading to the bar). All you have to do is look at the most recent survey from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which places small business optimism at an 11-year low, to realize how deep this problem goes.

So what can businesses do about this? Of course they raise prices (although my smartest clients are doing this discriminately by looking closely at customer profitability and targeting price increases where they can). Businesses are also investing more in technology and capital improvements, although many are being hindered by the much higher costs of capital.

Other tactics you’ve probably seen: shrinkflation, where businesses charge the same for less (what? only two meatballs instead of three with my spaghetti?), tougher negotiations, pushing back on added goodies (I haven’t seen a chocolate on my hotel pillow since well before Covid) and a pullback on hiring, with job openings now at a pre-Covid level.

Inflation is still a major problem. Consumers are getting pinched with higher prices and stagnant incomes. Meanwhile, small businesses — which employ half of the country’s workers — are dealing with significantly higher costs. All of this has happened since Biden took office. Is this his fault? History will decide. Regardless, it explains why the president’s approval ratings are so low. And it doesn’t bode well for him this election year.

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