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Inflation is soaring across the country — and not just because of the war in Ukraine. At a national level, the United States has hit record-breaking inflation, according to Bloomberg, which reported “U.S. consumer price gains accelerated in February to a fresh 40-year high on rising gasoline, food and housing costs.” And gasoline inflation is continuing to rise with Russia’s War on Ukraine.
What’s more: this 40-year inflation high has hit the Midwest harder than any other region in the nation, particularly because of the region’s distance from ocean ports, Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal report. Iowa is no exception, with consumer prices increasing by 8 percent in the Midwest region in the 12 months ending in February, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Despite the rising prices, which have amounted to a 7.9 percent increase nationally in consumer inflation over the past year, job pay hasn’t increased alongside surging prices. “Record-breaking inflation and a 12-year-stagnant federal minimum wage have combined to leave countless working Americans struggling to afford their most basic needs despite working full-time jobs,” Fortune reports. And I couldn’t agree more as one of those Americans struggling to make ends meet. More Americans today are living paycheck to paycheck — and I’m one of them.
As someone who grew up in a low-income family, earned a full-ride to go to college and secured a midlevel job as an associate editor for a publishing firm, I should be “living the American dream.” I brought myself up from the trenches of poverty with the help of a mother who taught me the importance of having a good work ethic, as well as an insatiable urge to always learn more. My family has always helped me in whatever way they could, sacrificing their needs to help realize my success. One would think those sacrifices and my early career success in writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, The Gazette and The New York Times would merit me a little financial security and stability. That is not the case.
Today, I live paycheck to paycheck, much like most people living in the low and middle class brackets. In Iowa, the average income for a person is $33,021 and the median household income is $61,836, according to the latest U.S. census data. And nationally, the median household income in fiscal year 2021 was $79,900, meaning Iowa households are making significantly less than the national average. There is also proof that the income gap between the rich and the poor is widening at an astonishing rate. Over the past two years, those living in the top 0.01 percent have increased their earning power by 10 times as much as American families in the bottom half of the income scale, Time reports. It’s quite frankly disgusting to see the income gap widening as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, as more and more people struggle to afford their basic necessities while those who have more than enough hoard their wealth.
Today, many Iowans and Americans at large are one big unexpected cost away from homelessness. This indicates a fractured economy and political instability are here to stay unless some drastic, progressive change happens. Now, Gov. Kim Reynolds actually did something promising as of late when she signed the state’s most historic tax reform bill into law, cutting taxes for all Iowans and lowering their individual income tax rates. However, there’s still a long way to go to ensure repairing the state’s — and the country’s — income inequality and managing skyrocketing inflation for all.
The best place to start? Increasing minimum wage to what the livable wage in Iowa is: $49,000/year or $23.56/hour. Today, the minimum wage in Iowa still is only $7.25. That’s unacceptable. That’s the first step in creating a foundation of support for the state in which residents can increase their quality of life — never mind the social resources that continue to be cut in favor of saving the state money.
It’s time we live up to the state motto: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” Perhaps we can even create that “field of opportunities” the state prided themselves upon, too.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com