America’s most vulnerable bear the brunt of high inflation

While inflation eased slightly last month, it continues to remain high and new data shows it's having an outsized, negative impact on Native American, Black and Latino families in particular, according to a poll out this week from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University. Alonzo Plough, chief science officer of the foundation, joins William Brangham to discuss the specifics.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even though new data today show that inflation is slowing, many prices remain high, and the most vulnerable Americans are bearing the brunt.

    William Brangham has more on who is being hit hardest.

  • William Brangham:

    Judy, new data shows inflation has had an outsized, negative impact on Native American, Black and Latino families in particular.

    A poll out this week from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard found 69 percent of Native Americans say inflation has caused serious financial problems, as do 58 percent of Black Americans and 56 percent of Latinos. Just 44 percent of white and 36 percent of Asian households report similar hardships.

    Alonzo Plough is the chief science officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation., and he was involved in this research.

    The foundation is one of the "NewsHour"'s funders.

    Mr. Plough, very good to have you on the "NewsHour."

    We have been tracking how a lot of Americans across the spectrum have been hurt by inflation. But these communities seem to be really suffering disproportionately. Why is that?

  • Alonzo Plough, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

    Well, while inflation influences and affects all of us, these are communities, the Black, indigenous, Latino populations, who are economically marginal in the best of time.

    So one has to think about inflation as just amplifying a situation of almost survival economics in the best of time for these groups. So the impact goes from being a difficult, in terms of their economic status, to barely being able to make, tradeoffs like not paying rent, not being able to get health care, and actually food insecurity.

    So the effects are immediate and much more severe than most of us are facing with inflation.

  • William Brangham:

    It seems similar to the way in which COVID again revealed all of these inequities that we knew existed in our society, but, again, it highlighted them in such stark relief. Inflation seems to be doing exactly the same thing.

  • Alonzo Plough:

    The analogy with COVID is exactly right.

    COVID pointed out longstanding disparities. And, again, it's very important to point out that these are not based on people's races, race, but the effect of racism that creates a variety of marginalizing factors, housing that's insecure, neighborhoods that are not safe, lack of health insurance.

    Generations of that is going to put our populations at greater risk for any kind of problem, be it COVID or inflation.

  • William Brangham:

    One particular fact jumped out. I mean, a whole bunch of them did, but this one, a third of Black and Latino families were saying that they had a hard time affording food. Almost 40 percent of indigenous families said the same thing.

    How should we interpret that? I mean, that is very, very difficult to cut back on feeding your family.

  • Alonzo Plough:

    We should interpret that, that these are people who are at the — just at the borderline of survival on a day-to-day basis. So food insecurity is a way of life.

    Tradeoffs are being made all the time between health care, paying rent, packing a lunch for your kid at school. And, again, a situation like inflation, again, just tips you into more of a precarious situation. That's a chronic problem.

    And it's unfortunate when that is only elevated in the context of COVID disparities or inflation disparities.

  • William Brangham:

    Another similar fact, just to the point that you're saying, that majorities in each of these communities were saying they didn't have enough savings to bridge one month of their normal expenses.

    And if you think about that, of a family not being able to have enough in the bank to bridge a month of their expenses, I mean, that is truly living on the edge.

  • Alonzo Plough:

    Yes, a family — again, these are minimum — minimum-wage earning families are living on the edge.

    And all data show that there are scarce, if any, savings. And then another long term impact of marginalization is lack of transgenerational wealth, families. Our polling showed that majority populations had family members had helped them out, other generations.

    But that's not the case when there has been income inequality, again, for generations in our Black, brown and indigenous populations.

  • William Brangham:

    We are seeing some signs that inflation is starting to wane slightly.

    For these families, does that give you a sense that, OK, this might turn around for them? Or do you worry that the setbacks that they have suffered during this inflationary period might just mean they're going to continue falling behind?

  • Alonzo Plough:

    I wish I could be more optimistic, but I'm not.

    These are families who have been economically marginalized throughout their life course, those kinds of conditions in place that create daily tradeoffs between whether you can afford food, whether you can afford gas in the car. Those will continue.

    And it's just unfortunate that we need a survey like this to point out a problem that should be discussed every day, large percentages of our population really living at the margin, and so economically vulnerable.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, this research seems to point out that, as far as longer-term solutions to this, I mean, we're talking about very systemic issues in our society, what people get paid, whether they have access to health care, what the social safety net looks like.

    I mean, those are seemingly very difficult challenges for our leaders to address in the best of times.

  • Alonzo Plough:

    Well, our leaders have opportunities to address that. And many of the approaches to deal with these problems of poverty and marginality, I mean, this isn't rocket science.

    Other countries do it as a standard part of their social welfare programs. Many elements in current legislation that haven't been implemented around day care, childcare, there are many different approaches that have been — not found their way sufficiently into current legislation that are remedies for this.

    So, the tragedy is not applying things that we know will work in order to eliminate this kind of disparity.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Alonzo Plough with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, thank you so much for being here.

  • Alonzo Plough:

    Thank you for having me.

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