Archive for the ‘Inflation’ Category

Service of Inflation—I’ll Say!

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

The pack on the right cost $20 for 48. The pack on the left, $24 for 28.

It was 10 years ago this month that in my blog I hit the subject of inflation head-on even though we’ve been hearing about it more recently for a few years now. Some price increases of late have taken my breath away.

According to US Inflation Calculator, “The annual inflation rate for the United States was 3.0% for the 12 months ended June, according to U.S. Labor Department data published on July 12, 2023. This follows a rise of 4.0% in the previous period.”

OK, I’ll be a sport and give a company or service the green light to increase their prices by 5 percent. But that’s not what’s happening.

Energy

I go through AA batteries like a hotdog stand does mustard. When I run out–in about a year and a half–some Connecticut friends buy me a giant pack from Costco. The previous purchase cost $20 for 48. The new pack costs $24 for 28. The manufacturer claims that these last longer. They had better!

I was away for 10 days in early June, and nobody stayed in my apartment which most would describe as small. Con Edison reported that I’d used 27 percent less electricity than the previous period. Huh?

Here’s to Your Health

I just got a notice from my supplemental health insurance to expect my premium to increase 12.4% next year.

Don’t Go There

Cars taking the nine MTA bridges and tunnels that don’t have E-Z Pass will pay 10% more.  As of last Sunday, those with the pass, +5.5%.

By the end of the month, bus and subway riders will pay an additional 5%.

Anticipated congestion pricing of $23 in Manhattan gives many of us the shivers.

Hop into a yellow taxi at rush hour and before you move one inch, you’re facing $9.00 on the meter.

Do you have examples of services and manufacturers that might be taking advantage of all the talk about inflation by stepping on the gas with their prices?

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Service of Some Still Don’t Believe Americans Go Hungry

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Miche at Bien Cuit bakery, $15.00

I was at a gathering, tables groaning with delicious goodies, at which I heard: “I don’t believe there is hunger in this country.” The speaker refused to be convinced otherwise.

The comment nagged at me so I looked online for recent articles about hunger in America, [not that this person would have read any of them], and found none on Google since 2020. At that time there were plenty of reports of how the pandemic had made a terrible situation–that had been getting better–worse for many, especially children.

The nokidhungry.org website reports today that “according to the latest estimates, as many as 13 million children in the United States live in ‘food insecure’ homes. That phrase may sound mild, but it means that those households don’t have enough food for every family member to lead a healthy life.

$2.99 at Trader Joe’s

“The number of children living with hunger had fallen steadily over the past decade, but the coronavirus pandemic dealt a terrible blow to our progress as a nation – one that No Kid Hungry and other organizations will work to reverse during the long recovery ahead.”

So I changed my question to Google and wrote: “How has inflation impacted food banks?” I found a January 31, 2022 story on cbnews.com by Kate Gibson: “Inflation has more Americans counting on food banks to eat.”  It described the financial pressure that food banks are experiencing which, of course, impact those who depend on them.

I can’t believe I paid $1.99 for a grapefruit or $1.19 for a navel orange at Trader Joe’s. There are plenty of staples I buy there that haven’t increased in price such as a pound of penne rigate from Italy $.99; a pound of sweet Campari tomatoes, $2.99, [as much as $6 at other stores], or 16 ounces of plain Greek yogurt for $3.29. The last time I bought a butter substitute, Brummel & Brown, at a standard Manhattan grocery store, it cost $4-something. Last week I handed the cashier $5.00 and quickly realized that wasn’t enough: I paid $6+.  For the average family of four, that doesn’t have money left for food after paying rent and electricity, many of these items I buy regularly are luxuries.

Speaking of luxuries, I saw a stunning looking country bread at Bien Cuit in Grand Central Station for $15. I bet it’s tasty.

Do you know anyone who believes that there are no hungry people living in America? Are there many who think this? Can you share links to recent articles on hunger in America that I’ve missed? Are your grocery bills inching upwards or have you negotiated around the increases?

Trader Joe’s price: $.99.

Service of Full Measure II: Pay more and get less for health insurance, education and toilet tissue

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

I first wrote a Full Measure post in 2010, a topic very much related to the Service of Inflation series launched the year before and I risk little in predicting there will be more to come. An eye doctor appointment, results of New York city and state student tests and a newspaper article inspired today’s post.

Insurance strikes another black eye hitting doctors and patients where it hurts

Before seeing my doctor and his staff for my annual eye exam the receptionist gave me an agreement–a first. I would check one box if I was willing to pay $75 to be tested for refraction; another if not.

In a nutshell the form explained that most insurance companies will no longer pay for a doctor to test for eyeglasses.

This was the wording: “Refraction is the testing done with lenses to determine and correct the errors in the eye causing problems with both distance and near vision. This information is required to prescribe glasses. Insurance carriers do not consider refraction a medical procedure. Medicare and most commercial carriers will pay for covered benefits only. When you receive a service that is not a covered benefit, patients are responsible to pay for it.”

But guess what? Staff told me that if you go to some optometrists–they mentioned a rip-off eyeglass store chain I’ve been warned by friends and colleagues to avoid–the insurance might pay for the test.

It’s easy to forget the precise differences between the training and expertise of an ophthalmologist and optometrist but it’s pertinent so I checked out webmd.com: “Ophthalmologists are physicians. They went to medical school. After school, they had a one-year internship and a residency of three or more years. Ophthalmologists offer …..Vision services, including eye exams; Medical eye care — for conditions such as glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns; Surgical eye care — for trauma, crossed eyes, cataracts, glaucoma, and other problems; Diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions related to other diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis; Plastic surgery — for drooping eyelids and smoothing wrinkles.” [I didn’t know about wrinkles….hmmmm].

Webmd.com continues: “Optometrists are medical professionals but not physicians. After college, they spent four years in a program and got a degree in optometry. Some optometrists undergo additional clinical training after optometry school. They focus on regular vision care and prescribe eyeglasses and contacts.”

This course doesn’t lead down a healthy road. It means that the physician who chooses to become an ophthalmologist will soon be left only with treating eye disease, severely cutting into his/her income and customer traffic. I also wager that the nations’ eyes will suffer. On the rush to the $500 eyeglass frame counter in the chain, diseases that should be diagnosed and treated/controlled early may be missed. How shortsighted.

Taxing information

New York City spent $25 billion on education, the state $74 billion according to research by WOR 710 NYC radio producer Michael Figliola for the John Gambling Show, yet the results are not equally stratospheric. The state spends more on education than anything else.

Lisa Fleisher wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Less than 30% of the city’s third- through eighth-graders scored proficient in math and English Language Arts on the new exams, which are an attempt to measure whether students are on track to do higher-level work when they graduate and start their careers.”

Yoav Gonen of The New York Post reported: “The eye-opening passing rates for third- through eighth-graders of just 29.6 percent in math and 26.4 percent in reading reflected the first real measure of how many students are considered to be on the path to success after high school.”

Gonen continued: “Last year, before the exam standards were significantly boosted, 47 percent of city kids passed the reading exams and 60 percent passed math.” In a bulleted list he noted “New York City outperformed the state’s other ‘Big 4’ cities by leaps and bounds. Second-place Yonkers only had 16.4 percent of students pass in reading and 14.5 percent in math.”

What else is there to add?

Nothing to Sneeze At

Desheeting doesn’t relate to making beds, operating sailboats, rain [in sheets] or drinking too much [three sheets to the breeze]. It’s how the tissue and toilet paper industry describes fewer sheets of tissue in a box or roll.

Serena Ng reported in “Toilet-Tissue ‘Desheeting’ Shrinks Rolls, Plumps Margins” that Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex packages contain 13 percent fewer sheets simultaneously claiming that each one is “bulkier” by 15 percent. Guess they know folks who want bulky tissue instead of lots of it when cold or allergies strike.

While on the subject, here’s some toilet paper trivia brought to us by Kimberly-Clark research via Ng: In five bathroom trips/day, Americans use some 46 sheets of toilet paper and according to Euromonitor International, companies sold $10.6 billion of tissue and toilet paper in the US in 2012.

Mayor Bloomberg, who watches NYC’s waistlines, would approve of some of the additional information in Ng’s article though as a consumer even he might expect the price to reflect less product which I’m certain it doesn’t. “Cereal boxes and bags of chips have in many cases become lighter over the years in what the food industry refers to as taking ‘weight out.’ A regular Snickers bar now weighs 1.86 ounces, down from 2.07 ounces in the past, which Mars says was done to cut calories to 250 per bar. Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice is now sold in 59 ounce bottles, versus 64 ounce cartons prior to 2010.”

I didn’t notice a decrease in my insurance premium to compensate for one less essential covered procedure. Does this new wrinkle smack of lobbyists at work along with insurance greed leaving men and women with limited incomes, their children and another specialty of doctor yet again in a reject pile? Have you examples of paying for and receiving full measure lately or the opposite–which seems to be increasingly in fashion?

Service of College

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

To promote the children’s book winners of the 2011 Christopher Awards, I was looking for mommy bloggers who cover books on an electronic database. Of 570 mothers who post about issues relating to children, families and parenting, there were 14 identified with books. This analysis is unscientific. It could mean that bloggers didn’t check off “books” or respond in any way to the list collector’s query for details. Still, there were generous numbers of bloggers associated with new products, arts and crafts and other suitable subjects.

Nevertheless, my mind jumped to two articles I read last week: Caleb Crain’s New York Times book review, “Lost in the Meritocracy,” about Professor X’s “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” and Daniel B. Smith’s New York Magazine article, “The University Has No Clothes.”

Before I continue, I remind you that I am a volunteer director of a mentoring program for graduate students, for years have been a mentor to college and grad students and as a foundation board member I direct development for programs and scholarships for college and grad students in the communications  industry.

Back to the articles. Crain wrote that Professor X makes a range of points but a salient one was “What grade does one give a college student who progresses from a 6th-to a 10th-grade level?” Crain notes: “Professor X can be caustic about the euphemism and somewhat willed optimism that sometimes befog discussion of how to teach unprepared students. To relieve his and his students’ unhappiness, he proposes that employers stop demanding unnecessary degrees: a laudable suggestion, unlikely to be realized until the degree glut has dried up.”

And then there’s the cost. Wrote Crain: “In 1940, there were 1.5 million college students in America; in 2006, there were 20.5 million. In X’s opinion, a glut of degrees has led to a spurious inflation of the credentials required for many jobs. Tuitions are rising, and two-thirds of college graduates now leave school with debt, owing on average about $24,000. A four-year degree is said to increase wages about $450,000 over the course of a lifetime, but X doubts the real value of degrees further down on the hierarchy of prestige.”

In his New York Magazine article, Smith focuses on two college-educated successful men leading what he calls the “anti-college crusade.” According to Smith, James Altucher, father of two girls, a finance writer and venture capitalist thinks “higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam-college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt.” Smith quotes Altucher:  “‘The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.'”

The second anti-college crusader in Smith’s article, Peter Thiel, was the first Facebook angel and a PayPal founder. Smith wrote that he “contends that American colleges have transformed from rigorous scholarly communities into corporate-minded youth resorts, where some presidents command salaries of more than $1 million and competition centers on outdoing one another in acquiring high-end amenities (duplex-apartment dormitories, $70 million gyms).” Thiel thinks that middle class parents consider a college education as an insurance policy that ensures that their children remain in the middle class.

According to Smith, Altucher said his goal was to reduce demand and therefore tuition cost. Theil’s mission was similar, backed by a fellowship he’s funding in a program he’s calling 20 Under 20. The winners get both $100,000 each and mentorships with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. They must also stay out of college for two years.

Do you think that the pictures painted by Professor X, Altucher and Theil are dire, bleak and wrong or spot-on? Should employers require college degrees for most jobs? Do you see a connection between the exorbitant cost of college, countless students unprepared for university-level work, crippling debt resulting from four years of college and most mommy bloggers covering every topic under the sun but books?

Service of Overexposure

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Today’s post is related to an earlier one, “Service of Too Much Information,” written a year ago January [must be that time of year]. What inspired me this time was watching “The Third Man,” a 1949 movie [in black and white, natch], on Turner Classic Movies.

It achieved powerful, suspenseful moments without showing me every gory detail. One scene was in a children’s hospital ward and I saw the nurses and bits of beds but not the deathly ill patients who were there because they’d been given ineffective medicine sold to the hospital by a greedy main character. I saw no decayed body that police had freshly dug out from a grave but knew it looked horrific. The director had my imagination do the work. Great actors’ reactions to seeing these human conditions also helped.

In today’s movies, if we hear an explosion we must then see blood and guts.

It’s not just movies that leave little to the imagination: Women’s fashion trends have for several years.

And violent, name-calling vitriol on talk radio, cable TV and in politics are other examples of overexposure. It’s a form of taking the easy way out. It’s effortless. And it’s effective with lazy minds looking for easy answers. It takes research and thought to carry on intelligent, image-inspiring conversation.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with easy, efficient and effective in some instances: It’s what we strive for in our workdays and lives. Take digital photos, email, and social networking vehicles that allow us to communicate with editors and reporters  immediately and at miniscule out of pocket cost; smartphones that keep us in touch with people who need information without tethering us to our desks; lasers instead of knives that permit surgeons to remove cataracts and break down kidney stones while leaving patients far less debilitated.

Do you think imaginations need exercise like muscles? Do we do our brains harm by exposing them to and feeding them digested information and images, or should we chew on, envision, fantasize and process more of it ourselves?

Service of Inflation III

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

I’ve covered this topic twice before and unfortunately, I anticipate covering it again in future before it no longer applies. Here are my latest targets:

For 20+ years, I’ve used a lightweight, thin monthly planning calendar with a plastic cover. The price rises yearly, but I need it so I buy it. This year, the quality of the paper is remarkably poor, thin and flimsy. By the end of the first week, the January page was wrinkled and worn and the cover bent. The New York Times reported that the founder of this company, in his 90s, got married about a month ago. Maybe he’s been distracted by the wedding plans.

My husband gave me a [replacement] yellow cashmere sweater for Christmas. I wore out my original one and I love to add a bright color to the layers I pile on to cheer me on dreary days. The new one, from the same well known catalog/retailer as the first, is so thin that it feels more like cotton tee shirt than sweater. The styling is rudimentary. The first day I wore it, it wrinkled. Who ever heard of a wrinkled cashmere sweater after a day sitting on an office chair? If dramatically chintzing on quality is how this company controls prices, it doesn’t work for me.

Gasoline prices increase weekly. I heard on a car radio program that the corn mixed in with oil reduces the efficiency of the fuel, making a gallon even more expensive than the $3+ price for low-test that I’m currently paying in upstate New York.

And then there are the adhesive bandages I bought in a standard box that appears to be the same size that all this well known brand’s boxes have been for years.  It’s practically empty. Cost: $4.50 + tax.

My favorite ground coffee, a house brand, cost $9 for two pounds last year. It’s now $13. I buy a ton of it and freeze enough for a year as all the stores that sell it are inconvenient. A friend told me to check the coffee vendor in Grand Central Station where he noted that some coffee costs $12 for one pound. But still.

To end on a cheery note, I again sing the praises of T-Mobile which I first wrote about in “Good Service is in the Air, Isn’t It?” In January 2009, I bought a cell phone from T-Mobile that came with a charger and earphones and 1,000 hours of service for $130. I gave them $10 to renew the contract in 2010 and just gave them another $10 for 2011. There are some 300 minutes remaining. Is this the best bargain in town? We’ll have paid $4.17/month over these three years if my husband–who hardly uses the thing–doesn’t need extra minutes this year. I won’t admit what I’m paying monthly for my Blackberry [though I use the phone a ton and can’t live without the email component which doesn’t exist on my husband’s barebones T-Mobile phone].

Do you have any examples of paying more and/or getting less for what you pay? Even better, how about some exhilarating examples of where you got more for your money than you expected?

Service of Inflation II

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

This is the second in an inflation series. The first came closer to the standard meaning of the word, addressing rising prices in light of government assurances that they weren’t. The inflation in today’s post is about overstuffed promises.

Ethan Smith covered a story in The Wall Street Journal, “Live Nation’s Diller Resigns as Chairman Amid Turmoil,” in which early in the article he described a PowerPoint presentation given by Live Nation’s chief executive Michael Rapino at a summer investor conference that Smith described as “disastrous.”

Smith wrote: “One slide in a Powerpoint [sic] presentation implied that with the help of Live Nation it would take a contemporary recording artist just three months to vault from obscurity to selling out concert arenas.” Smith continued, “Most in the music business believe a more realistic timeline to be on the order of two years.”

No wonder Barry Diller resigned. More people should discourage this kind of fact-bloating behavior.

You may have read posts and comments here that illustrate claims as outrageous as Rapino’s. The reaction of too many is to shrug and think, “Business is business.”

No it isn’t.

On the one had we have specialization to the nth degree in everything from medicine and law [people who help select juries] to sports [the left handed pitcher who shows up to throw to the left handed batter and returns to the bench for the duration].

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who know nothing about a subject and babble on about it with overstated claims. I’m not referring to the face cream marketing and sales types who assure that their glop will remove your wrinkles or the pill pushers who claim theirs will slim a person by 20 lbs in a month. I think they know better.

I am referring to the people you’ve worked with and/or observed in action who attract business with Rapino-like outrageous claims and they don’t know what they are talking about. Do they keep the customer or client? Do they sleep at night? Do they care?

Checking out services and claims is so easy today with easy access to online information and linking in with knowledgeable people around the country without having to move from a chair. How come so many of us still appear numb–even mesmerized–by inflated claims?

Is it because we can’t get over the bigger is–or must be–better syndrome from huge tasteless strawberries, enormous restaurant portions, gargantuan boxes of snack foods and cups of soda, humongous houses and ginormous hedge fund and entertainment [star and sports figure] salaries?

So I repeat: good for Mr. Diller.

Can you share examples of inflated promises that tick you off or of high profile people who put their foot down and refuse to be associated with the verbal inflation approach to business?

Service of Inflation

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

I hear and read that we are not experiencing inflation. You could fool me.

I stopped by the grocery store for a 99 cent quart of milk a week ago on the way home from the office. My hands were full, as usual, so I came prepared with a $1 in my fist. The cashier asked for $1.09, explaining, while I put down all my stuff to search for a dime, that the price had changed the week before. I don’t remember recent gas prices making a 10 percent jump all at once–or did they?

Our apartment is cozy. The electric bill in fall has been in the $30 range and we just got a bill for $60+. It included $17 for gas-for our stove.  We are in the apartment three to four nights a week and rarely use the oven, only the stovetop and only for dinner.

And what about the price tags on meds that are grabbing front page headlines? The excuse for meteoric increases is that pharmaceutical companies are preparing for expected regulations that will force them to lower their prices under health care reform.  Should the reform hit a snag, do you think the cost of drugs will return to where they were? Meanwhile, health insurance rates also continue to gallop.

Does it count as inflation for the woman who wants to maintain a yearly mammogram schedule and must pay the full bill every other year because her insurance doesn’t want to cover a yearly test anymore?

Are there some industries where prices are staying the same or even decreasing?

More important: If there is inflation, what service does the government–and the economists it employs–render by reassuring us that there is little or none?

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