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Op-Ed: Joe Biden and the Democrats Need to Understand, If Inflation Feels Real, It Is Real

A customer selects goods at a supermarket in New York, the United States, Aug. 11, 2021.
Wang Ying | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images
  • In its recent Rural Horizons Poll, the One Country Project (of which I am a founding member) found an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of voters agreed the costs of everyday items like food, clothes, and gas are increasing quickly.
  • Not surprisingly, the rural voters in the poll rated jobs and the economy as one of the most important issues for President Joe Biden to address. 
  • Voters in the One Country Project Poll broadly supported the Build Back Better plan, giving it higher approval rating than they gave to President Biden overall.

 In economic circles there's a lively debate about inflation. Is it transitory or here to stay? What about the spread between the core and the headline?

These are important points for wonks of all stripes to consider, but among average Americans the debate is over. Ask them and they will tell you that inflation is real and it is effecting their daily lives.

That is a political reality President Joe Biden and Democrats need to acknowledge as they try to advance his agenda. 

In its recent Rural Horizons Poll, the One Country Project (of which I am a founding member) found an overwhelming majority (83 percent) of voters agreed the costs of everyday items like food, clothes, and gas are increasing quickly.

The consumer price index confirms this – prices for groceries, gasoline, heating, vehicles, rent, and furniture all rose in September 2021 – and these rising prices are having an outsized impact on rural communities.

Rural consumers spend far more (37% more) on used cars and trucks and gasoline than their urban counterparts. And the one-two punch of labor shortages and disrupted supply chains could result in high prices remaining steady throughout the end of the year. 

This price crunch presents two challenges for proponents of the investments contained in the Build Back Better package. The first is straightforward – increasing prices risk compounding the frustrations that rural Americans already have with the state of the economy.

Prior to the pandemic, rural employment stagnated over the last 10 years, even as metro areas saw large gains in employment. Then the pandemic struck a serious blow. Only 28.1% of rural counties have as many jobs now as they did two years ago.

Not surprisingly, the rural voters in the poll rated jobs and the economy as one of the most important issues for President Biden to address. 

The second challenge is more subtle, but just as politically dangerous. Of those polled, 57% think the Democratic party is not considering their way of life (50% think the same of Republicans).

The sense that Washington is not listening to them, and doesn't care about them, is a recurring theme among rural voters. Dismissing their concerns about consumer costs with technical explanations about the nuances of Bureau of Labor Statistics reports risks hardening that perception and creating unnecessary political headwinds.  

Ironically, job-creating legislation like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act could have a major impact on the rural economy and job market. And they are popular – voters in the One Country Project Poll broadly supported the Build Back Better plan, giving it higher approval rating than they gave to President Biden overall. But, they are concerned about costs. 

Rather than telling rural voters why they are wrong about inflation, advocates for the Build Back Better plan should acknowledge concerns about costs by telling people what is in the package for them – not just how much they plan to spend.

By doing so, and by acting quickly, they can deliver real benefits for rural America that will improve the quality of life around the country. They may actually inflate their own approval ratings in the process.

 Heidi Heitkamp served as the first female senator elected from North Dakota from 2013-2019 and is co-founder of the One Country Project.

 

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