Inflation or price-gouging? Dig deeper before assigning blame

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An article in today’s Post-Record (“IMPACT Camas-Washougal’s ‘call to action’ continues to grow”, A1) notes that inflated food prices are making life more difficult for many  Camas-Washougal families. 

“The need in our community continues to grow,” Nancy Nass-Boon, the coordinator of the Washougal School District’s family resource center, told The Post-Record. “More families than ever are relying on assistance to make ends meet.”

In Camas, the article noted, there are at least 60 families with children who attend Camas schools who are in need of the supplemental food boxes the IMPACT Camas-Washougal group has been pulling together for the past decade to “bridge” the gap between when school ends and summertime food-assistance programs begin. 

“When St. Matthew’s called toward the end of the school year to organize the IMPACT Camas-Washougal event, I was so relieved,” Brenda Schallberger, who coordinates the Camas School District’s Family-Community Resource Center, told The Post-Record. “Working parents will have shelf stable supplies for their students when they go off to work — and even more meaningful is that all the families realize how much this community cares about them and their well-being. More than ever during these difficult economic times, when rents and food costs are unusually high, we believe in the great positive impact of this event.”

Since its inception in 2015, IMPACT Camas-Washougal has distributed 1,200 supplemental food boxes to local families, but even that isn’t enough. As one of the group’s members told The Post-Record last week: “We know there’s a lot of need out there, but even though we’re not reaching everybody who probably truly needs the help, we know we’re at least reaching some of the people in need of help.”

As the Camas-Washougal continues to become increasingly unaffordable for lower-income and even many middle-class individuals and families, we are likely to see even more families in need of basic necessities, such as the supplemental food boxes provided by the IMPACT group every June. 

And while it is important to celebrate and recognize the volunteers and kind-hearted folks who help keep these types of life-sustaining programs operating in our community, it is equally important to try to understand some of the reasons why so many people — even those with “good” full-time jobs — are having trouble making ends meet. 

Though many like to rail against “inflation” and — especially during a presidential election year — place blame for skyrocketing costs on whichever party might be in control of the White House, we cannot talk about inflated prices in today’s world without also discussing corporate price-gouging amidst record profits. 

Or, as the nonprofit group put it earlier this year: “It’s not inflation — we’re just getting ripped off.” 

After noting that recent inflation in the United States reached its peak in 2022, the group asks: “If inflation is down now, why are families still feeling the pinch?” 

The answer: corporations raised prices during the COVID-19 pandemic to account for supply chain shortages, but many have kept those prices artificially high even as supply chain jams cleared and profits soared.’s research shows that corporate profits, in fact, accounted for more than half of the “inflation” in the U.S. between April and September 2023, despite accounting for just 11% of inflationary factors in the 40 years that preceded the pandemic. 

“These corporate giants have no plans to bring prices down anytime soon,” the group noted. “In fact, their own executives are openly bragging about how they’re going to ‘expand margins’ on earnings calls. … Corporations across industries, from housing to groceries and used cars, are juicing their profit margins even as the cost of doing business goes down. And they’re not hiding the ball. Since the summer of 2021, Groundwork began listening in on hundreds of corporate earnings calls where we heard CEO after CEO boasting about their ability to raise prices on consumers. Now we hear something slightly different: CEOs crowing about keeping their prices high while their costs go down.”

Even politicians are beginning to see the light. In early May, dozens of Democratic lawmakers, led by Massachusetts’ U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, signed a letter asking President Joe Biden to use his executive powers to help control skyrocketing food prices, which have become 25% more expensive since the start of the pandemic, and do something about corporate price gouging. 

Grocery chains, the Democratic lawmakers wrote, have “raked in record profits in recent years, with CEOs bragging on earnings calls about how their price hikes exceed inflation.”

“Americans across the political spectrum have pointed to the cost of food and groceries as their top concern related to inflation,” the lawmakers wrote to Biden. “The American people are relying on your administration to combat corporate greed and higher food prices.”

In April, Robert Reich, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor under then-president Bill Clinton, wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian noting that corporate price-gouging is making life worse for Americans – many of whom wrongly still believe Biden is to blame. 

The easiest explanation for record corporate profits at the same time prices remain elevated is that corporations have enough monopoly power to keep prices high,” Reich noted. “This is one of the biggest reasons the American public is not yet crediting Biden with a great economy. Most people still aren’t feeling it.”

The presidential election is about five months away. We know many Americans are hurting right now — struggling to pay debts, find affordable housing and keep up with prices that seem to increase every single week — but we would urge voters to look much deeper into the real causes of “inflation” and to consider which of the two main political parties is actively trying to remedy corporate price gouging and which party would rather just take the lazy way out and place blame on the president.