Axios Today Podcast: How Rising Inflation Affected American Wallets

New data shows that prices rose faster in 2021 than in the past 40 years. Inflation reached 7% in December.

  • The schools are also trying to cope with the shortage of bus drivers.
  • And, Omicron and COVID tests at home.

Guests: Neil Irwin and Alissa Widman Neese of Axios; and Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative

Credits: Axios Today is produced in collaboration with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Sabeena Singhani and Alex Sugiura. The music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can send questions, comments, and story ideas to Niala as text or voice memos at 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios today!

It’s Thursday, January 13th.

I am Niala Boodhoo.

What you need to know today: schools are trying to cope with too few bus drivers. In addition, Omicron and COVID tests at home.

But first, today’s one big thing: How the rise in inflation is affecting American wallets.

NIALA: Axios’ chief financial correspondent and podcast friend Felix Salmon told us last year we shouldn’t worry about inflation, but new figures show that prices rose faster in 2021 than in the last 40 years. Inflation reached 7% in December. How do we put this number in context? We’re not letting Felix off the hook, but he’s on vacation right now. So we have our other favorite inflation expert here to talk about. Axios’ new chief business correspondent, Neil Irwin. Hi neil.

NEIL IRWIN: Hi Niala, thank you for having me.

NIALA: So, I want to ask you first what I asked Felix, is it time we were all worried about inflation?

NEIL: I think the time is over, the moment to worry, uh, if your wages haven’t gone up 7% and I think a lot of people didn’t get that kind of raise. Uh, you’re talking about a real deterioration in your quality of life and what you can afford. And, uh, that lowers people’s standard of living. It causes a lot of pain out there.

NIALA: What, especially when we look at prices, where do we see the biggest increases just looking at the items?

NEIL: The biggest and most dramatic increase was in car prices. Mostly used cars, 40% more than last year or so. This is just crazy. I mean it never happens.

NIALA: Neil, what do we need to know about what economists think is going to happen? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Do people think prices and inflation will ease?

NEIL: Well, yes and no. The good news is that there is reason to believe that we will not see that kind of 7% inflation again in ’22, ’23. Because, you know, some of these adjustments are one-off. However, there are some things baked into the economy right now that could keep inflation high, maybe not 7%, but higher than we’ve been used to for quite a while. One of them is that rents are rising sharply. We see wages rise, which is good when you make more money, but also that employers will tend to raise prices whenever they can make up for those higher wages.

NIALA: Which data points do you pay attention to? What should we pay attention to in the short term?

NEIL: I think the most important thing is how widespread inflation is. If it was all about cars, just the price of oil, that is less of a concern than it is when it comes to all kinds of goods and services. We saw in December that some of these service industries, restaurants for example, had fairly significant price increases. So that’s a sign that some of these more widespread price pressures are starting to appear. And there is no question, you know, if you haven’t got a raise in the last year, if you got a 2% raise and the things you buy are 7% more expensive then you will be worse off. The question is how does it end? Will things balance out over the course of 2022, or will it take longer?

NIALA: Neil Irwin is the main business correspondent for Axios. Thanks, Neil.

NEIL: Thank you very much.

NIALA: In 15 seconds: How the largest school district in Ohio deals with staff shortages.

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios today. I am Niala Boodhoo. We know schools across the country are facing a staffing crisis. From teachers to caretakers to bus drivers, the shortage of staff is forcing many schools to cancel classes or go back online. In Vancouver, Washington, classes are far away due to the lack of bus drivers. A Maryland county asked the Maryland National Guard to assign 200 people to drive buses.

Alissa Widman Neese, an Axios Columbus reporter, has been following the shortage in Ohio. Hello Alissa.

ALISSA WIDMAN NEESE: Hi, thank you for being here today.

NIALA: How does this shortage play out in Columbus?

ALISSA: The bus driver’s situation is probably the most important personnel situation for the Columbus school district. It is the largest district in the state of Ohio with approximately 47,000 students. Last Friday, the situation worsened to such an extent that the district was forced to cancel classes. There are several other districts in the suburbs here that are also either completely remote or just had to make day-to-day changes to warn families, “Hey, you have to pick up your kids an hour earlier than expected, or your kids are coming too late because there are simply not enough drivers in the seats for the buses. “

NIALA: What is Columbus trying to do to recruit more bus drivers?

ALISSA: The district has started offering bonuses to bus drivers and other non-teaching employees. They are offering $ 2,000 over two years, paid in increments of $ 500. But it doesn’t seem enough to lure people there yet. I think they were hoping it would be a start.

NIALA: Alissa, these aren’t just bus drivers facing staff shortages in the district, are they?

ALISSA: In Columbus, too, there are major concerns about the substitute teachers. The Columbus District currently has 616 active substitute teachers. To meet the needs of any absences that occur, they hope to increase this pool by 20%. Many substitute teachers simply do not take up vacancies and no longer fill them as they used to. Things are so hectic at times that teachers are simply merging the classrooms instead of having a replacement specifically designed for one classroom. So for the moment they are staying on track but cannot imagine that it is an easy situation for families.

NIALA: Alissa Widman Neese is an Axios Local reporter from Columbus, Ohio. Thanks Alissa.

ALISSA: Thank you very much.

NIALA: We will talk about the staff shortage in schools and possible solutions in the next few weeks. And we’d love to hear from you – if you are a parent or teacher who had to fill out and help in some way at your child’s school, you can record a voice note and text it to me at (202) 918-4893.

NIALA: One of the few things that seems clear at this point in the pandemic is that many of us are confused. Including about testing. For clarity, we turned back to Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo [NUH-zoh], an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative, with whom we spoke earlier this week about the number of Covid cases.

Jennifer, I think a lot of the confusion revolves around home testing. How should we think about it now?

JENNIFER NUZZO: So my advice is that home testing remains an important tool. But, you know, don’t ignore your symptoms. If you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone and get a negative test result, do not assume that you are safe. If you are not doing well or feeling bad, I think it is important to stay home for a few days and isolate yourself until you can test yourself again.

NIALA: But what about people who get positive test results and then have no symptoms or get positive test results on the rapid test and then get negative PCR because I feel like I’ve heard a lot about it.

JENNIFER: Yeah. Hence, I think that you should treat any positive as positive until a qualified health care provider tells you otherwise. In the case of a positive rapid test, but a subsequent negative PCR test, ideally you would speak to a doctor who will want to understand what you did before the test, you know how you are feeling, etc. What I hear more often are people with symptoms. They do a quick test and it comes back negative, but they really have COVID. And it may be because there is less virus in your nose with this variant than we have seen with other versions of the virus. So I think it’s important not to ignore your symptoms, even if you get a negative home test, then try to improve that test result a few days later, or speak to a doctor in particular.

NIALA: Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo teaches at Johns Hopkins University, where she is also an epidemiologist on the COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative.

NIALA: One last thing before we get here today. We know vinyl has become very popular again in recent years, with sales skyrocketing during the pandemic … but you may be surprised to learn that CD sales have actually increased over the last year too .. .. after going back for 17 years! It looks like this is at least partly thanks to Adele, whose album had 30 massive vinyl and CD sales. I’ll also say: Gen Z thinks everything old is cool. Thank you Gen-Z!

That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo – thanks for listening – stay safe and see you again tomorrow morning.