As inflation tears through the Seattle area, here’s how 6 residents are coping
These are the times that test consumer bank accounts.
Amid growing signs of an economic slowdown, Washingtonians are still grappling with price hikes that are starting to feel as permanent as the pandemic that fueled inflation in the first place.
Admittedly, price increases for a few items, such as gasoline, have eased slightly in recent weeks. But they remain painfully high on everything from groceries to housing to home repairs.
And as the following six stories make clear, that meant new worries, hard choices, and even sacrifices for many Washingtonians, especially those who struggled before COVID or who took a hit early in the pandemic and are not still not recovered. It also adds stress to business owners, especially smaller ones, caught between soaring wholesale prices and disgruntled customers.
“Survive in This Town”
After customers complained that his $17 entry was too expensive, Kottu food cart owner Syd Suntha slashed prices by $2 to appease the Expedia campus technicians at Interbay who were doing queuing for their Sri Lankan street food.
Yet customers still thought $15 was too much for lunch. So Suntha, who had already absorbed the increases in the cost of gas and food, fired back on Instagram:
MORE EXPEDIA CHANGES FOR ME.
NOT FUN TO HEAR FROM PEOPLE WHO MAKE MORE THAN YOU THAT YOUR PRICE IS TOO HIGH.
THE COOKS MUST ALSO SURVIVE IN THIS CITY.
The price hike crept into the oft-neglected mobile food channel, which was already skating on thin margins during the pandemic because employees were working remotely rather than in office buildings — a major source of revenue for food trucks and carts.
To cut costs, Suntha tows her cart mostly in North Seattle near her Ballard home. The single dad of two daughters spends up to $80 on gas and propane per outing to power the SUV and the portable flatbed grill on which he frys roasted flatbread with meats, vegetables and curries.
Since launching his business in March, Suntha said, he has not raised prices even though the cost of food has at least tripled, including a 45% increase in cooking oil.
— Tan Vinh
‘Should I just give up?’
Y’ana Goddard, 28, wonders if she should drop out.
A math major at South Seattle College, she knows a degree is the key to a high-paying job as a data analyst one day.
But rising prices added pressure to Goddard’s already strained financial situation. Goddard’s bank account is regularly overdrawn, she said, “and that’s only through fixed bills,” like utilities.
Goddard has a job on campus and about half of his income is spent on rent. She relies on her school’s free pantry for basic foods like vegetables and eggs. When she is shopping, the shock of the sticker is intense. Pork chops, his affordable meat pick, nearly doubled in price. In the Seattle area, meat prices overall rose nearly 14% in June from a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Milk and cheese had climbed even more strongly, rising 21% in one year.
Her breaking point came three months ago, she said, when her car broke down. She couldn’t afford the $600 repair estimate. Now she takes the bus from her home in Beacon Hill to school three days a week. Even if she could afford to fix her languid car in the driveway, Goddard said she’d probably take the bus to school — gas is just too expensive.
As her money troubles pile up, Goddard said she wonders if she’s making the right choice by focusing on school.
“You start to feel hopeless,” Goddard said. “Should I just give up and get an entry-level job to make money and survive, rather than pursue my dreams?”
“A Constant Need”
A can of Progresso was $1.99. Now his chicken noodle soup is $4 at some stores and is no longer on Ashley Johnson’s grocery list.
Johnson, 34, is the single mother of an almost 10-year-old child and recently moved to Kirkland, where she grew up. His rent is $2,200 and is expected to increase by $100 to $300 when his lease is renewed. She knows her rent is high, but she feels lucky that the increases aren’t as bad as other tenants in the neighborhood.
Gasoline is expensive, but prices are falling. Rising prices for groceries — like canned soup — are having the biggest impact on her household.
“Kids don’t stop eating, and with the amount they eat during summer vacation, it’s not something you can necessarily adjust,” she said. “We can always choose to carpool or not go on day trips, but groceries are a constant need.”
To make ends meet, she works for a grocery delivery start-up and has odd jobs caring for pets, making deliveries and organizing households. She also started a job at a small fulfillment warehouse in Seattle at the end of the school year, so she had to factor in road tolls and extra gas.
“It helps me at least not have to go to the grocery store and think, ‘How much can I get with $60 to get through the week? Can I put gas in my car? and grocery shopping? “, did she say.
She told her son that for his birthday, instead of renting space for a party, they would invite some friends over to their apartment.
There are a lot more “noes” than before.
She thinks about inflation at least every time she goes to the grocery store and every payday. “You get the money in your account and it’s so nice, and it’s gone within hours, between bills, groceries and filling up the car,” she said. “There is nothing left.”
“You are racing someone for the fish”
Inflation hit Dave Franklin even before he could get his fishing boat out of Fisherman’s Terminal in Seattle and on its way last week for the season in Alaska.
Diesel Franklin, 67, buys 6,000 gallons at a time because his 58ft seiner costs twice what it cost a year ago. The $10,000 he just spent on repairs is about double what it would have been three years ago, and the insurance is up 35% to $30,000.
Franklin’s main hope now is that prices for the pink salmon and chum salmon he fishes all summer remain high enough to do better than breakeven. “Catching fish is fun,” says Franklin, who has been fishing commercially since 1980. “Going broke is not.”
Across much of the Seattle-based commercial fishing fleet, operators large and small are reeling from steep increases in everything from fuel and bait to packaging materials and groceries for their crews.
This risks reducing profits and changing the way fishing teams operate. To save expensive fuel, boats will likely travel more slowly and stay on fishing grounds just a few hours from port, instead of making 12-14 hour journeys. Rather than returning to port every time regulators temporarily close an area, “now some of the guys are staying in the field,” Franklin says.
But in the often highly competitive industry, some costs are unavoidable, Franklin says. Slowing down to save more expensive fuel isn’t an option when “you’re racing someone for the fish,” he says.
“I had to cash in the jackpot”
Security guard Kayla Haughey can spend up to $100 a day commuting from Kent to her job at Amazon’s Blackfoot building in South Lake Union. Three days a week, she can carpool 30 minutes with her boyfriend. But on Mondays and Tuesdays, the car-free Haughey has two options: a combination of bus, light rail and walking, or service like Uber and Lyft.
Neither is a perfect option. The trip to downtown Seattle by bus and train can take him three hours, and in recent months an Uber to work has soared to at least $50 each way as the ride-sharing company added charge to cover rising fuel prices.
Haughey’s costs add up quickly. Ubers weren’t cheaper, and with gas over $5 a gallon, she spent $70 to $90 every two weeks to fill up her boyfriend’s gas tank. Neither her employer nor Amazon compensates for her transportation costs, she said, even though transportation costs have increased 22% since last year in the Seattle area.
“I had to bear the brunt of it every day on my own,” she said.
Haughey, 31, says the price of reliability is worth it. Her employer has a strict lateness policy that doesn’t take traffic or transit delays as an excuse for being even a minute late for her 2 p.m. shift. She said managers tell late workers who blame the commute, “Well, you should have planned better.” If she is late for work three times, she could be fired.
“It’s something I don’t like to mess with,” she said.
“A really vicious circle”
A few years ago, Diane Coate remembers: “I was doing quite well. Earning $17 an hour at Walmart, she could cover her monthly essentials.
Then, Coate says, she was diagnosed with cancer, lost her job, and found herself unable to walk. Out of work, she fell behind on months of rent for her two-bedroom apartment in Tukwila. This year the landlord increased the rent by $1,220 an additional $80.
Relying on Social Security payments and food assistance, Coate, 69, brings in less each month than the cost of her rent. Hiring movers and paying the deposit on a new location seems out of reach. And anyway, nothing seems affordable. The apartments she has appraised nearby are renting between $1,200 and $1,400.
“It’s a vicious circle that we’re going through right now, and I never thought I’d be in the middle of it,” Coate said.
Rising rents are a key part of inflation measures which have soared in recent months, crushing renters across the region. A median one-bedroom apartment in King County now rents for nearly $1,700, up 9% year-to-date and 13% from the same period in 2019, before the pandemic , according to Apartment List.
Add to that the rising cost of food and basic necessities. Like others, Coate counted the price spikes.
Oven Joy loaves of bread that once cost 88 cents now ring in at $1.89. A $2.88 jar of cherry jam is now $4.29. Coate cut extras, like sodas and deli food. She uses cleaning products sparingly.
“You go down all the lanes,” she said, “and everything is in place.”