Look beyond the economic hype

Food value remains a high priority for consumers experiencing financial stress.

May 8, 2014

Expect the cause of bigger food bills this year to be higher prices rather than freer consumer spending – because households continue to struggle, despite recent government data that suggest otherwise.

New-job creation is typically lower salary these days.  The unemployment dip doesn’t include millions who’ve stopped seeking work.  And people are stressed from working multiple part-time jobs without benefits, and paying health care costs and insurance premiums out of pocket.

The implications for supermarkets are that value will remain a shopper priority, and attempts to upscale should be limited, says The Lempert Report - to areas where Wall Street shareowners feel better about economic recovery, where housing prices have rebounded, and to categories where product innovation warrants premium prices.  

A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study determined “the recession has ended for only 25% of the U.S. population,” reports the New York Post. Though the nation’s wealth has recovered more than $16 trillion since the recession, 86% of that was in stock-market appreciation and 12% in housing, the Fed’s senior adviser and assistant vice president Ray Boshara told a blogger for Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research.

Here are some gritty details about how American consumers are faring in 2014:

  • Among men 25-to-54 years old, 83.2% are working vs. 87.4% in the recession year of 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as reported by The New York Times.
  • More moms are home raising their children, largely because rises in child-care expenses make working less worthwhile, notes Pew Research Center, as reported by The Associated Press.  The percentage of at-home moms was 29% in 2012, up from 26% in 2008. More than one-third of at-home moms (34%) live in poverty vs. 12% of working moms.
  • Middle-aged adults are moving back into their parent’s homes - at a percentage-growth pace twice that of unemployed Millennials who’ve returned to their childhood homes, reports the Los Angeles Times.  They’re doing it because they need the economic help – not to care for elderly moms and dads.  Between 2006 and 2012, the number of Californians aged 50-64 who squeezed back into their parents’ homes surged by two-thirds (67.6%) to 194,000, estimates the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.  
  • About half of Americans have zero net wealth, which means their debts equal their assets, according to University of California at Berkeley researcher Gabriel Zuckman, as reported by Marketplace Morning Report.
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