From crab balls to cars, Biden's hometown feels inflation pinch

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A pizzeria in President Joe Biden's hometown Wilmington recently took sparkling water off the menu because it got so pricey managers figured no one would buy it.

At the car dealership that Biden's presidential motorcade occasionally passes when he comes to town, sales people have had trouble keeping new vehicles in stock, while prices for their used models have climbed ever higher in recent months.

"Each day is a new day. We're not really sure what's going to happen in the business or in the economy when we wake up in the morning," said Jim Ursomarso, vice president of Union Park Automotive.

The wave of inflation that's swept the United States this year as Covid-19 vaccines have helped businesses reopen and consumers spend has spared no part of the country -- not even Wilmington, the city that has provided a backdrop for much of Biden's political career.

Voters in the Mid-Atlantic city gave Biden seven times more votes than his predecessor Donald Trump in last year's election, but business owners now fret as prices rise and public approval in his administration falls.

"Here in Delaware, he's loved. But as time has gone by, we have been lacking the reciprocation," said Serena Kelley Jefferson, co-owner of Serena's Soulfood, whose mother cooked for Biden, and who recently took crab balls off her menu because they became too costly to serve profitably.

- Inflation spreads -

Inflation was predicted to increase as the US economy recovered in 2021, but a Wednesday report from the Labor Department showing the consumer price index last month experienced its biggest year-on-year gain in more than three decades was an unwelcome surprise.

This year's initial price spikes were most severe for products like used cars and airplane tickets. The latest data, however, showed them extending into groceries and gasoline, with ripple effects across the economy.

"After the pandemic, this was the worst thing that could happen to small businesses, especially restaurants," said Gianni Esposito, whose eponymous pizza parlor has received Biden repeatedly, including on the day he began his latest presidential campaign in 2019.

"Now you cannot find a lot of employees. Everything you have to buy, it's 30, 40, 50 percent more expensive."

As of Friday, poll amalgamator FiveThirtyEight put Biden's approval rating at 42.8 percent, lower than all other presidents at this point in their terms except for two.

"I didn't vote for him, but I wasn't against him like I am now," said Candice Gronski, 50, an accountant living just over the state line in Pennsylvania who typically votes Republican but felt like Biden nonetheless failed to meet her expectations.

- Not to blame -

The US inflation rate has been muted for years, and the latest price increases are driven by a mix of factors that might not have occurred without the pandemic.

Supply chains are snarled worldwide thanks to the disruptions caused by Covid-19, while energy costs have risen after global oil prices briefly went negative in 2020.

In the United States, American consumers are flush with cash and spending it with the help of three rounds of stimulus checks and an expanded government social safety net that both Trump and Biden approved.

But businesses haven't been able to keep up, since many people who could work have decided not to. Meanwhile, the global semiconductor shortage has slowed down production across a range of industries, including the auto sector, driving prices higher.

The increases may well hamper Biden's push for an expansion of the country's social services costing $1.85 trillion over 10 years.

Following the latest inflation report, Joe Manchin, a centrist senator whose vote is crucial to getting the bill through Congress, warned, "the threat posed by record inflation to the American people is not 'transitory' and is instead getting worse."

As he filled up his car with gasoline that was upwards of a dollar more expensive per-gallon then it was a year ago, Phil Johnson said inflation wasn't affecting his life.

Biden "inherited a lot of this when he took office in January," the 32-year-old worker in the financial sector said. "The stimulus checks won't last forever and inflation can't stay at six percent."


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