Inflation rises faster than expected, pinching pocketbooks and spooking the markets

New inflation numbers out Friday show the nation's economic pain has not peaked, and is still getting worse. The U.S. Labor Department reports consumer prices rose 8.6 percent in May from a year ago, marking the biggest increase in more than 40 years going back to December 1981. Michelle Singletary, a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the impact.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New inflation numbers are out tonight and they show the pain has not peaked, but is still getting worse.

    The U.S. Labor Department reports consumer prices rose 8.6 percent in May, compared with a year ago. That marked the biggest increase in more than 40 years, going back to December of 1981.

    President Biden focused on inflation as he toured the Port of Los Angeles today, and he acknowledged the problem is still not under control.

  • President Joe Biden:

    I understand Americans are anxious. And they're anxious with good reason.

    I was raised in a household, when the price of gasoline rose precipitously, it was the discussion at the table. It made a difference, when food prices went up.

    My administration is going to continue to do everything we can to lower the prices for the American people. And the Congress has to act. And they have been of late.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The inflation news landed with a thud on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 880 points, 2.7 percent, to close at 31392. The Nasdaq fell 414 points. That's 3.5 percent. The S&P 500 dropped nearly 3 percent. For the week, the indexes were down 4.5 to 5.5 percent.

    Let's look at the impact of these rising prices and what it means for the finances of working households.

    Michelle Singletary is a personal finance columnist for The Washington Post. And she joins me now.

    Michelle, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Tell us, what does this news mean for working Americans, who, frankly, have been living these numbers that we're looking at for the last many months?

  • Michelle Singletary, Personal Finance Columnist, The Washington Post:

    Yes, it's really going to be tough for them. Gas is going to cost more. Foods costs more. If you got to move in, and you have to get a new rental, rent is going up.

    It's really tough for a lot of Americans right now to keep enough food on the table and an affordable roof over their heads.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what are the — what are the items — you have just touched on some of them — that are seeing the biggest price hikes? Or is it across the board?

  • Michelle Singletary:

    It's across the board, but, clearly, the things that people need the most, gas, food and housing, those types.

    If you have got to buy a car, a new or used car, it's going to cost you more. Your washing machine goes up, it's going to cost you more, the kinds of big-ticket items that people rely on. Listen, if you cannot travel and put off that vacation and maybe have a staycation, especially if your budget is tight, you're going to have to do that, unfortunately.

    And don't risk your financial safety by trying to do something that you can't afford. I hate to tell people that because I know we have been also cloistered up because of the pandemic. But this is a time, with inflation so high, that you really need to tighten your budget. And I know some people tighten it so much that they want to scream.

    But you still need to tighten some more, so that you can weather the storm, because we don't know what's going to happen over the summer, if inflation is going to go even higher.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you are absolutely right about people wanting to get away after being cooped up for this long.

    But what about — Michelle, is it possible to describe which Americans are hit the worst by this?

  • Michelle Singletary:

    It's definitely those making minimum wage or just a little bit above minimum wage, those who are on Social Security, and that is most of their income coming in, even though Social Security had an increase, a cost of living increase, but it still isn't keeping pace with inflation as it still goes up.

    So anybody — there's really two parts of our economy, those people who are complaining about gas prices and food prices, but they can bear that cost. And I just need you all to stop fussing so much, because you can do this. Tightening for you is eating out one last time this week.

    And then there's the part of the American public that was struggling even before the pandemic, and now they have got inflationary prices. And for them, it might mean having two meals, instead of three, right? And for that population, we have to help them, more funds to food banks.

    If there people in your life so you know are struggling, help them out. Maybe pay their rent for a couple of months, if you have that extra, so that we can all get through this. I mean, people keep asking me, what can people do? You can do something. To whom much is given, much is required.

    So, if you have got some extra, help some folks out. Give more to charities that are helping feed the poor and helping people with housing. So that's how we're going to get through this, together, and on an individual level. What can you do?

    If you are doing OK, go ahead and buy that car, go ahead and eat out. But, if you're not, you have got to pull back.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sobering words.

    Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • Michelle Singletary:

    Thank you.

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