Price Shock at Meat Counter Worsens U.S. Inflation Jitters
(Bloomberg) -- Prices for meat dishes that are traditional centerpieces of American meals are soaring, driving home the nation’s rising inflation rate and deepening discontent among voters.
Beef prices in November were up 20.9% from a year earlier, and those for roasts 26.4%, the Labor Department reported Friday. Pork rose 16.8%, and bacon 21%. Even more economical choices are surging, with chicken rising 9.2% and hamburger meat 13.9%. Overall, meat prices have risen 16% since a year ago.
Surging consumer prices have moved to the top of Americans’ concerns, contributing to plummeting public support for President Joe Biden. Food prices are among the most politically sensitive -- along with gasoline, which has surged about 58% in a year -- because they are routine purchases that regularly remind voters of inflation.
The Biden administration has been concerned for months about the surge in meat and poultry prices, which account for about a quarter of food inflation over the past year. Senior officials have accused the handful of corporate conglomerates that dominate meatpacking of abusing their market power to drive up prices while they rake in record profits.
Soaring meat prices are “the result of corporate decisions to take advantage of their market power in an uncompetitive market, to the detriment of consumers, farmers and ranchers, and our economy,” White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese wrote in a White House blog post Friday. The companies’ profit margins “have skyrocketed since the pandemic,” he said.
Julie Anna Potts, president of the North America Meat Institute, an industry trade group, disputed the White House’s claims, saying the price increases are driven by “rising input costs, rising fuel costs, supply chain difficulties and labor shortages.”
November’s overall annual inflation rate was 6.8%, the highest since 1982, early in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Grocery prices overall were up 6.4% from a year ago.
Worries about inflation also have been an obstacle to congressional approval of Biden’s signature Build Back Better economic package, with moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin repeatedly raising concerns about its impact on consumer prices.
There may be some relief ahead. Wholesale beef prices recently have been declining, earlier this week touching their lowest level since April, as seasonal demand drops. Gasoline prices at the pump have also dropped in the past few weeks.
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