Deciphering the Contradiction of the Covid Economy on Thanksgiving

There is plenty of cause for concern about social, political and health issues. Cases of Covid-19 are on the rise in most states, which again indicates that the virus has become indispensable. A series of lawsuits proved that the national reckoning on race issues is as complicated and unsolvable as ever.
And behind every tale of politics looms the anticipated attempted comeback of former President Donald Trump, who plotted a coup at this time last year. Sometimes these stories align, such as when Trump met Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen recently acquitted after the murder of two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden on Wednesday pointed to the conviction of three white men for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, as proof that “our justice system is doing its job.”

However, what may affect more Americans more directly each day is the state of the US economy.

Here’s the mismatch between the data and everyday life: People are feeling the pinch of rising gas pump and grocery store costs, even when there’s a lot of very good economic news to be thankful for.

First, almost everyone who wants a job has one. The government registered just 199,000 new jobless claims last week, the lowest since 1969. Meanwhile, a major inflation measure rose to a 31-year high in October.
Christine Romans of CNN described this pandemic contradiction of Covid-19 in a video report.

I borrowed a lot from her language for this list of arguably good news, including:

  • US industrial production soars above pre-pandemic levels.
  • Car production recovered last month and factory output would have been even stronger had there been no hitches in the company’s supply chain.
  • Corporate profits are enviable and large companies navigate supply chain problems, pass on higher costs to customers and even fill their profit margins.
  • The largest publicly traded companies have higher profit margins today than before the pandemic, and your retirement account probably shows it.
  • The Dow is up 17% this year and the S&P 500 is up 25%. If you go further back since the market crashed in 2020, some of the averages have doubled.
  • Workers have the upper hand. You’ve heard it called the “Great Layoff”: Americans quit their jobs in record numbers. In September, 4.4 million jumped, and economists say many are taking better jobs with higher wages and starting bonuses.
  • Salary is thicker after years of slow wage growth, especially for low-paid workers. Wage growth is approaching 5%.
  • Americans are saving. Thanks to higher wages, Covid-19 stimulus checks and child tax credits, Americans have more than $2.3 trillion in savings since the crisis began. JP Morgan says the average checking account balance is 50% higher this year than it was in 2019.
  • The economy adds jobs. In total, 5.8 million jobs were added this year.

There is certainly a contradiction here if the national mood is low while economic indicators are rising.

In a recent CBS News poll, just 4% of Americans said things are generally going very well in the country, and 26% said things are going somewhat well. People thought the same about the economy: a combined 30% said the state of the national economy was very good or quite good.
It’s also true that while concerns about the economy are on the rise, they are quite low historically, as Gallup points out.

“Inflation has all the headlines, but most other indicators are booming,” Romans said in her report.

She pointed to two reasons why consumer confidence doesn’t match the strong indicators:

  • Americans are exhausted by the pandemic.
  • They are bombarded every day by higher prices at the supermarket and gas station. “Everyone drives and eats; not everyone owns stock,” she said.
It’s hard to reconcile those strong indicators with the stupid meme circulating in Washington that some Americans may not be able to afford turkeys this year because of inflation.

I asked Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN’s poll editor, how to view the national vote, and she argued that the poll isn’t easy takeaways.

She said: “It is also true that:

  • a) concerns about the economy are increasing,
  • b) the economy is not nearly as dominant an issue as it was during the Great Recession,
  • c) Americans’ current views on the economy are generally pretty crappy and
  • d) conceptions of the economy are closely intertwined with bias.”

The partisan element is an important one. Large segments of Republicans may have a worse picture of the economy right now, simply because of their disdain for Biden. Democrats may have exhibited the same behavior during the Trump administration.

Food is definitely more expensive. The American Farm Bureau Federation crunched numbers to argue that the average Thanksgiving feast for 10 people costs $53.31, or about $5.30 per person. Last year the average figure was $46.90.

The American Farm Bureau Federation noted that turkeys are more expensive this year, but also added the asterisk that it bought turkeys to make these calculations before supermarkets had their supplies for Thanksgiving.

When asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki that this was the most expensive Thanksgiving ever, she replied: “I just want to be clear that there is an abundance of turkeys available. They are about a dollar more for a 20 pound bird, which is a huge bird if you’re feeding a really large family. And that’s something that, again, have We’ve been working to make sure people have more cash in their pockets to tackle it as the economy picks up.”

An abundance of turkeys is something any American can be thankful for, even if they fear they will cost a little more.

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