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    New Inflation Developments Are Rattling Markets and Economists. Here’s Why.

    Inflation is less about pandemic and war surprises and more about economic momentum. That could make the solution more painful.When inflation began to accelerate in 2021, price pressures were clearly tied to the pandemic: Companies couldn’t produce cars, couches and computer games fast enough to keep up with demand from homebound consumers amid supply chain disruptions.This year, Russia’s war in Ukraine sent fuel and food prices rocketing, exacerbating price pressures.But now, as those sources of inflation show early signs of fading, the question is how much overall price increases will abate. And the answer is likely to be driven in part by what happens in one crucial area: the labor market.Federal Reserve officials are laser-focused on job gains and wage growth as they quickly raise interest rates to constrain the economy and slow rapid price increases. Officials are convinced that they must sap the economy of some of its momentum to wrestle the worst inflation in four decades back down to their goal of 2 percent.The way they do that is by slowing spending, hiring and wage gains — and they do that by raising the costs of borrowing. So far, a pronounced cool-down is proving elusive, suggesting to economists and investors that the central bank may need to be even more aggressive in its efforts to temper growth and bring inflation back down.As data this week showed, prices continue to soar. And, while the job market has moderated somewhat, employers are still hiring at a solid clip and raising wages at the fastest pace in decades. That continued progress seems to be allowing consumers to keep spending, and it may give employers both the power and the motivation to increase their prices to cover their climbing labor costs.As inflationary forces chug along, economists said, the risk is rising that the Fed will clamp down on the economy so hard that America will be in for a rough landing — potentially one in which growth slumps and unemployment shoots higher.It is becoming more likely “that it won’t be possible to wring inflation out of this economy without a proper recession and higher unemployment,” said Krishna Guha, who heads the global policy and central bank strategy team at Evercore ISI and who has been forecasting that the Fed can cool inflation without causing an outright recession.Rising wages could become a more primary driver of higher prices.Hiroko Masuike/The New York TimesThe challenge for the Fed is that, more and more, price increases appear to be driven by long-lasting factors tied to the underlying economy, and less by one-off factors caused by the pandemic or the war in Ukraine.Consumer Price Index data from August released on Tuesday illustrated that point. Gas prices dropped sharply last month, which many economists expected would pull overall inflation down. They also thought that recent improvements in the supply chain would moderate price increases for goods. Used car costs, a major contributor to inflation last year, are now declining.Yet, in spite of those positive developments, quickly rising costs across a wide array of products and services helped to push prices higher on a monthly basis. Rent, furniture, meals at restaurants and visits to the dentist are all growing more expensive. Inflation climbed 8.3 percent on an annual basis, and picked up by 0.1 percent from the prior month.The data underscored that, even without extraordinary disruptions, so many products and services are now increasing in price that costs might continue ratcheting up. Core inflation, which strips out food and fuel costs to give a sense of underlying price trends, reaccelerated to 6.3 percent in August after easing to 5.9 percent in July.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    California Senate Passes Bill to Regulate Fast-Food Industry

    If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the measure would create a state council to establish minimum pay and safety conditions on an industrywide basis.The California State Senate passed a bill on Monday that could transform the way the service sector is regulated by creating a council to set wages and improve working conditions for fast-food workers.The measure, known as A.B. 257, passed by a vote of 21 to 12. The State Assembly had already approved a version of the measure, and it now requires the approval of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has not indicated whether he will sign it. The bill was vehemently opposed by the fast-food industry.The bill could herald an important step toward sectoral bargaining, in which workers and employers negotiate compensation and working conditions on an industrywide basis, as opposed to enterprise bargaining, in which workers negotiate with individual companies at individual locations.“In my view, it’s one of the most significant pieces of state employment legislation that’s passed in a long time,” said Kate Andrias, a labor law expert at Columbia University. “It gives workers a formal seat at the table with employers to set standards across the industry that’s not limited to setting minimum wages.”While sectoral bargaining is common in Europe, it is rare in the United States, though certain industries, like auto manufacturing, have arrangements that approximate it. The California bill wouldn’t bring true sectoral bargaining — which involves workers negotiating directly with employers, instead of a government entity setting broad standards — but incorporates crucial elements of the model.The bill would set up a 10-member council that would include worker and employer representatives and two state officials, and that would review pay and safety standards across the restaurant industry.The council could issue health, safety and anti-discrimination regulations and set an industrywide minimum wage. The legislation caps the figure at $22 an hour next year, when the statewide minimum wage will be $15.50. The bill also requires annual cost-of-living adjustments for any new wage floor beginning in 2024.Restaurant chains with at least 100 locations nationwide would come under the council’s jurisdiction — including companies like Starbucks that own and operate their stores as well as franchisees of large companies like McDonald’s. Hundreds of thousands of workers in the state would be affected.The council would shut down after six years but could be reconvened by the Legislature.Mary Kay Henry, the president of the nearly two-million-member Service Employees International Union, which pushed for the legislation, said it was critical because of the challenges that workers have faced when trying to change policies by unionizing store by store.“The stores get closed or the franchise owner sells or the multinational pulls the lease for the real estate,” Ms. Henry said. Franchise industry officials say it is extremely rare to close a store in response to a union campaign. Starbucks recently closed several corporate-owned stores across the country where workers had unionized or were trying to unionize, citing safety concerns like crime, though the company also closed a number of nonunion stores for the same stated reasons. Industry officials argue that the bill will raise labor costs, and therefore menu prices, when inflation is already a widespread concern. A recent report by the Center for Economic Forecasting and Development at the University of California, Riverside, estimated that employers would pass along about one-third of any increase in labor compensation to consumers.“We are pulling the fire alarm in all states to wake our members up about what’s going on in California,” said Matthew Haller, the president of the International Franchise Association, an industry group that opposes the bill. “We are concerned about other states — the multiplier effect of something like this.”Ingrid Vilorio, who works at a Jack in the Box franchise near Oakland, Calif., and who pressed legislators to back the bill during several trips to Sacramento, the state capital, said she believed the measure would lead to improvements in safety — for example, through rules that require employers to quickly repair or replace broken equipment like grills and fryers, which can cause burns.Ms. Vilorio said she also hoped the council would crack down on problems like sexual harassment, wage theft and denial of paid sick leave. She said she and her co-workers went on strike last year to demand masks, hand sanitizer and the Covid-19 sick pay they were entitled to receive. Jack in the Box did not respond to a request for comment.Mr. Haller said state agencies were already authorized to crack down on employers who violate laws governing the payment of wages, safety, discrimination and harassment.“The state has the existing tools at its disposal,” Mr. Haller said. “They should be more fully funded rather than put a punitive target on a subsection of a sector.”Mr. Haller and other opponents have cited a critique by the state’s Department of Finance arguing that the bill “could lead to a fragmented regulatory and legal environment for employers” and “exacerbate existing delays” in enforcement by increasing the burden on agencies that oversee existing rules. The bill does not provide additional funding for enforcement agencies.David Weil, who under President Barack Obama oversaw the agency that enforces the federal minimum wage, said that, while funding is critical for labor regulators, the new council could benefit a broad swath of workers even without additional funding. For example, he said, raising the minimum wage for fast-food workers could increase wages for workers in other sectors, like retail, that compete with fast-food restaurants for labor.But Dr. Weil agreed that creating new standards in the fast-food industry could end up drawing resources away from the enforcement of labor and employment laws in other industries where workers may be equally vulnerable.Opponents managed to secure a number of concessions in the State Senate, such as preventing the council from creating sick-leave or paid-time-off benefits, or rules that restrict scheduling.The Senate also eliminated a so-called joint liability provision, which would have allowed regulators to hold parent companies like McDonald’s liable for violations by franchise owners. More

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    U.S. income growth slowed in July, and consumer spending barely grew.

    Americans’ incomes rose more slowly last month — but, for once, those gains weren’t swallowed up by higher prices.Personal income, after taxes, rose 0.2 percent in July, the Commerce Department said Friday. That was slower than the 0.7 percent gain in June. But while the gains in June were more than offset by sharply higher prices, in July, Americans saw their inflation-adjusted incomes rise 0.3 percent as lower gas prices led to a respite from inflation.Consumer spending also cooled in July, as Americans pulled back on purchases of goods. Overall consumer spending rose 0.1 percent, the weakest showing since a decline in December and down from a 1 percent gain in June. Spending on services, which has rebounded sharply as the pandemic has ebbed, continued to rise, but more slowly than in prior months.The moderation in spending could be welcome news for policymakers at the Federal Reserve, who have been trying to tamp down demand without pushing the recovery into reverse.Income and spending, adjusted for inflation, are also among the indicators that economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research use to determine when a recession has begun. The gains in July are the latest evidence that the economy, though slowing, is not in a recession.Economists warn that the reprieve from inflation may prove temporary. But they say households should be able to keep spending as long as employers keep hiring and pay keeps rising. Income from wages and salaries rose 0.8 percent in July, the biggest gain since February. The Labor Department will provide data on employment and wages for August at the end of next week.Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm KPMG, said the underlying strength of the consumer economy reflected a handoff from the government, which helped support households and businesses with record spending earlier in the pandemic, to the private sector, which has roared back over the past year and a half.“We have seen the private sector really pick up that baton, which has been amazing,” she said. More

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    Starbucks Illegally Denied Raises to Union Members, Labor Board Says

    Federal labor regulators have accused Starbucks of illegally discriminating against unionized employees by denying them wage and benefit increases that the company put in place for nonunion employees.In a complaint on Wednesday, a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board accused the company of breaking the law when its chief executive, Howard Schultz, “promised increased wages and benefits at U.S. stores if its employees rejected the union as their bargaining representative,” and when it withheld raises and benefits from unionized workers.The labor board is seeking, among other things, that affected employees be made whole for the denial of benefits and wage increases. It is also asking that Mr. Schultz read a notice to all employees informing them that some had been unlawfully denied benefits and pay increases and explaining their rights under federal labor law. Alternatively, a board official could read this material to employees in Mr. Schultz’s presence.The labor board’s case is scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 25 before an administrative law judge, unless Starbucks settles with the agency beforehand. Starbucks could appeal any ruling by an administrative judge to the full board.In a statement, Starbucks said that it was required under federal law to negotiate changes in wages and benefits with the union and that it was therefore not allowed to make such changes unilaterally, as it can in nonunion stores. “Wage and benefits are ‘mandatory’ subjects of the collective bargaining process,” the statement said.Workers United, the union representing the company’s newly organized workers, said the complaint affirmed its contention that Starbucks was discouraging union activity.“He claims to run a ‘different kind of company,’ yet in reality, Howard Schultz is simply a billionaire bully who is doing everything he can to crush workers’ rights,” Maggie Carter, a worker who helped unionize her store in Knoxville, Tenn., said in a statement.More than 225 out of roughly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the United States have voted to unionize since last fall.Mr. Schultz began indicating that the company would roll out new benefits, but only for nonunion workers, shortly after he began his third tour as the company’s chief executive in April.The next month, the company announced a series of new benefits — including additional career development opportunities, better tipping options and more sick time — but only for stores that hadn’t unionized or weren’t in the process of unionizing. The benefits were to begin in the coming months.The company unveiled wage increases as well, some of which had already been announced and which the company said would apply to all workers. But other increases were new and would apply only to nonunion workers.For example, according to Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, all employees stood to benefit from a companywide $15-an-hour minimum wage, but nonunion workers hired by May 2 would get a 3 percent raise if that proved higher than $15.The wage policy appears to have sown confusion, with some employees briefly receiving a pay increase that was then withdrawn. Colin Cochran, a worker at a store near Buffalo that initially voted to unionize and then voted against the union in a rerun election decided this month, provided pay stubs showing that his $16.28 hourly wage had increased to $16.77 the first week of August, when Starbucks began the pay increases nationwide. But Mr. Cochran’s pay stub for the second week of August showed his hourly pay dropping back to $16.28. (The union is challenging the election loss at this store.)Mr. Borges said that the reversion to the previous wage had resulted from an inadvertent error and that unionized stores would get wage increases in September.Workers involved in union campaigns at other Starbucks locations said the denial of pay and benefit increases to unionized stores had slowed their organizing efforts.Kylah Clay, a Starbucks worker in Boston who helped organize several stores in the area, said inquiries from employees at other stores who were interested in unionizing had dropped off substantially not long after the company’s pay and benefits announcement in May. But they picked up recently after the pay and many benefit changes took effect, she said. More

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    What Will Happen to Black Workers’ Gains if There’s a Recession?

    Black unemployment fell quickly after the initial pandemic downturn. But as the Federal Reserve fights inflation, those gains could be eroded.Black Americans have been hired much more rapidly in the wake of the pandemic shutdowns than after previous recessions. But as the Federal Reserve tries to soften the labor market in a bid to tame inflation, economists worry that Black workers will bear the brunt of a slowdown — and that without federal aid to cushion the blow, the impact could be severe.Some 3.5 million Black workers lost or left their jobs in March and April 2020. In weeks, the unemployment rate for Black workers soared to 16.8 percent, the same as the peak after the 2008 financial crisis, while the rate for white workers topped out at 14.1 percent.Since then, the U.S. economy has experienced one of its fastest rebounds ever, one that has extended to workers of all races. The Black unemployment rate was 6 percent last month, just above the record low of late 2019. And in government data collected since the 1990s, wages for Black workers are rising at their fastest pace ever.Now policymakers at the Fed and in the White House face the challenge of fighting inflation without inducing a recession that would erode or reverse those workplace gains.Decades of research has found that workers from racial and ethnic minorities — along with those with other barriers to employment, such as disabilities, criminal records or low levels of education — are among the first laid off during a downturn and the last hired during a recovery.William Darity Jr., a Duke University professor who has studied racial gaps in employment, says the problem is that the only reliable tool the Fed uses to fight inflation — increasing interest rates — works in part by causing unemployment. Higher borrowing costs make consumers less likely to spend and employers less likely to invest, reducing pressure on prices. But that also reduces demand for workers, pushing joblessness up and wages down.“I don’t know that there’s any existing policy option that’s plausible that would not result in hurting some significant portion of the population,” Mr. Darity said. “Whether it’s inflation or it’s rising unemployment, there’s a disproportionate impact on Black workers.”In a paper published last month, Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary and top economic adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, asserted with his co-authors that the Fed would need to allow the overall unemployment rate to rise to 5 percent or above — it is now 3.5 percent — to bring inflation under control. Since Black unemployment is typically about double that of white workers, that suggests that the rate for Black workers would approach or reach double digits.In an interview, Mr. Summers said that outcome would be regrettable and, to some extent, unavoidable.“But the alternative,” Mr. Summers argued — “simply pretending” the U.S. labor market can remain this hot — “is setting the stage for the mistakes we made in the 1970s, and ultimately for a far larger recession, to contain inflation.”The State of Jobs in the United StatesEmployment gains in July, which far surpassed expectations, show that the labor market is not slowing despite efforts by the Federal Reserve to cool the economy.July Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 528,000 jobs in the seventh month of the year. The unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, down from 3.6 percent in June.Slow Wage Growth: Pay has been rising rapidly for workers at the top and the bottom. But things haven’t been so positive for all professions — especially for pharmacists.Care Worker Shortages: A lack of child care and elder care options is forcing some women to limit their hours or has sidelined them altogether, hurting their career prospects.Downsides of a Hot Market: Students are forgoing degrees in favor of the attractive positions offered by employers desperate to hire. That could come back to haunt them.“These arguments have nothing to do with how much you care about unemployment, or how much you care about the unemployment of disadvantaged groups,” he continued. “They only have to do with technical judgment.”Many progressive economists have been sharply critical of that view, arguing that Black workers should not be the collateral damage in a war on inflation. William Spriggs, an economist at Howard University, cautioned against overstating the Fed’s ability to bring inflation under control — especially when inflation is being driven in part by global forces — and underestimating the potential damage from driving interest rates much higher.Black workers will suffer first under a Fed-induced recession, Mr. Spriggs said. When that happens, he added, job losses across the board tend to follow. “And so you pay attention, because that’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said.In a June 2020 essay in The Washington Post and an accompanying research paper, Jared Bernstein — now a top economic adviser to President Biden — laid out the increasingly popular argument that in light of this, the Fed “should consider targeting not the overall unemployment rate, but the Black rate.”Fed policy, he added, implicitly treats 4 percent unemployment as a long-term goal, but “because Black unemployment is two times the overall rate, targeting 4 percent for the overall economy means targeting 8 percent for blacks.”The Fed didn’t take Mr. Bernstein’s advice. But in the years leading up to the pandemic, Fed policymakers increasingly talked about the benefits of a strong labor market for racial and ethnic minorities, and cited it as a factor in their policy decisions.After Mr. Biden took office, he and his economic advisers pushed for a large government spending bill — which became the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan — in part on the grounds that it would avoid the painful slog that job seekers, particularly nonwhite workers, faced after the 2007-9 recession and would instead deliver a supercharged recovery.Federal pandemic relief provided a cushion for Ms. Jordan, at her home near Atlanta with her husband and children. Rita Harper for The New York Times“It’s been faster, more robust for African Americans than any other post-recessionary periods since at least the 1970s,” Cecilia Rouse, the chair of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. Black workers are receiving faster wage gains than other racial and ethnic groups, and have taken advantage of the strong job market to move into higher-paying industries and occupations, according to an analysis of government data by White House economists shared with The New York Times.Menyuan Jordan is among them. Ms. Jordan, who has a master’s degree in social work and was making a living training child care providers in February 2020, saw her livelihood upended when Covid-19 struck.“The money was based off face-to-face professional development that went to zero almost immediately overnight,” she said. “I couldn’t afford the rent.”But pandemic relief packages from the federal government helped cushion the blow of lost earnings. And by last winter, Ms. Jordan had landed a job as a mental health clinician near her home in Atlanta — one that offered training and paid roughly $13,000 more than her prepandemic role, which she estimates brought in $42,000 annually.Administration officials say they are optimistic that Black workers can continue to see higher wages and improving job opportunities even if the labor market cools. But Goldman Sachs analysts, echoing a common view, recently concluded that average wage gains for workers would need to fall much further to be consistent with the Fed’s inflation goals.Fed policymakers are still somewhat hopeful that they can bring down inflation without causing a recession or undoing the gains of the past two years, in part because of a hope that the labor market can slow down mainly through reductions in job openings rather than layoffs.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, has made the case that only by bringing inflation under control can the central bank create a sustainably strong labor market that will benefit all workers.“We all want to get back to the kind of labor market we had before the pandemic,” Mr. Powell said in a news conference last month. “That’s not going to happen without restoring price stability.”Some voices in finance are calling for smaller and fewer rate increases, worried that the Fed is underestimating the ultimate impact of its actions to date. David Kelly, the chief global strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, believes that inflation is set to fall considerably anyway — and that the central bank should exhibit greater patience, as remnants of pandemic government stimulus begin to vanish and household savings further dwindle.“The economy is basically treading water right now,” Mr. Kelly said, adding that officials “don’t need to put us into a recession just to show how tough they are on inflation.”Michelle Holder, a labor economist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, similarly warned against the “statistical fatalism” that halting labor gains is the only way forward. Still, she said, she’s fully aware that under current policy, trade-offs between inflation and job creation are likely to endure, disproportionately hurting Black workers. Interest rate increases, she said, are the Fed’s primary tool — its hammer — and “a hammer sees everything as a nail.”Reflecting on a dinner she recently attended in Washington with “really high-level, all-white progressive economists,” Ms. Holder, who is Black, said there was a “resigned attitude” among many of her peers, who want positive near-term outcomes for people of color overall but remain “wedded to the use of mainstream tools” and ask, “What else can we do?”Mr. Darity, the Duke professor, argued that one solution would be policies that helped insulate workers from an economic downturn, like having the federal government guarantee a job to anyone who wants one. Some economists support less ambitious policies, such as expanded benefits to help people who lose jobs in a recession. But there is little prospect that Congress would adopt either approach, or come to the rescue again with large relief checks — especially given criticism from many Republicans, and some high-profile Democrats, that excessive aid in the pandemic contributed to inflation today.“The tragedy will be that our administration won’t be able to help the families or individuals that need it if another recession happens,” Ms. Holder said.Morgani Brown, 24, lives and works in Charlotte, N.C., and has experienced the modest yet meaningful improvements in job quality that many Black workers have since the initial pandemic recession. She left an aircraft cleaning job with Jetstream Ground Services at Charlotte Douglas International Airport last year because the $10-an-hour pay was underwhelming. But six months ago, the work had become more attractive.Morgani Brown returned to an employer she had left in Charlotte, N.C., when the hourly pay rose. Damola Akintunde for The New York Times“I’d seen that they were paying more, at $14,” she said, “so I went and applied for Jetstream again.” She remains frustrated with some work conditions, but said the situation had “ended up being better.”With rents rising, she saves money rooming with her boyfriend and another friend, both of whom work at an Amazon fulfillment center. Ms. Brown, who has a baby on the way, is aware that the e-commerce giant has recently cut back its work force. (An Amazon official noted on a recent earnings call that the company had “quickly transitioned from being understaffed to being overstaffed.”)Ms. Brown said she and her roommates hoped that their jobs could weather any downturn. But she has begun hearing more rumblings about people she knows being fired or laid off.“I’m not sure exactly why,” she said. More

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    How Pharmacy Work Stopped Being So Great

    If any group of workers might have expected their pay to rise last year, it would arguably have been pharmacists. With many drugstores dispensing coronavirus tests and vaccines while filling hundreds of prescriptions each day, working as a pharmacist became a sleep-deprived, lunch-skipping frenzy — one in which ornery customers did not hesitate to vent their frustrations over the inevitable backups and bottlenecks.“I was stressed all day long about giving immunizations,” said Amanda Poole, who left her job as a pharmacist at a CVS in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in June. “I’d look at patients and say to them, ‘I’d love to fill your prescriptions today, but there’s no way I can.’”Yet pay for pharmacists, who typically spend six or seven years after high school working toward their professional degree, fell nearly 5 percent last year after adjusting for inflation. Dr. Poole said her pay, about $65 per hour, did not increase in more than four years — first at an independent pharmacy, then at CVS.For many Americans, one of the pandemic’s few bright spots has been wage growth, with pay rising rapidly for those near the bottom and those at the top. But a broad swath of workers in between has lagged behind.In the two years after February 2020, income for those between the middle and the top tenth of earners grew less than half as quickly as income for those in the top 1 percent, according to data collected by a team of economists at the University of California, Berkeley.The gap is part of a long-term trend made worse by a slowdown in pay gains for middle- and upper-middle-income workers in the 2000s. “If you’re going to a hedge fund or investment bank or a tech company, you’ve done enormously well,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. Typical college graduates, he said, “have not done that great.”The stagnation appears to have moved up the income ladder in the last few years, even touching those in the top 10 percent.In some cases, the explanation may be a temporary factor, like inflation. But pharmacists illustrate how slow wage growth can point to a longer-term shift that renders once sought-after jobs less rewarding financially and emotionally.Growing Chains, Falling WagesIn 2018, Suzanne Wommack moved from western Missouri, where she had worked for several years as a pharmacist at a Hy-Vee supermarket, to the eastern part of the state, where she and her husband had relatives. The job she landed as a Walgreens pharmacy manager in Hannibal, roughly an hour-and-a-half outside St. Louis, paid her about $62 per hour — nearly $6 below her previous hourly wage, though regional pay differences helped to explain the drop.More striking was how few pharmacists Walgreens appeared to employ. At Hy-Vee, Dr. Wommack worked with one or two other pharmacists for most of the day. At Walgreens, the volume of business was similar, she said, but she was almost always the only pharmacist on duty during her shift, which often ran from 8 a.m. until the pharmacy closed at 8 p.m.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5Inflation F.A.Q.What is inflation? More

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    Britons Brace for More Hardship as Prices Soar Amid Inflation

    Cutting back on meat. Choosing cheaper supermarket brands. Stockpiling soap. Soaring prices force more sacrifices.LONDON — Stacey Smith grabbed some boxes of tea from a low shelf of a London supermarket on Wednesday, and then phoned the neighbor who had asked her to buy them.“They have gone up 20 pence,” she said. “Do you still want them?”Her neighbor agreed to accept the price increase, something that Ms. Smith, a teaching assistant and a single mother of three, has been unable to do with her own shopping. After she bought the tea, she headed to Aldi, a cheaper supermarket, to shop for her family.In the past months, as food prices have soared in Britain, she has cut down on meat and relied on pasta and sauces instead. Her children have stopped attending swimming lessons, she has limited their trips to the fridge for snacks and she has turned down their requests for money to spend at the bowling alley.“We need that money for food,” said Ms. Smith, who makes 1,200 pounds (about $1,400) a month. “Before, we were keeping our head just above the water. Now, we are literally sinking.”In Britain, inflation rose 10.1 percent in July compared to a year earlier, with consumer prices growing at their fastest pace since 1982. Many Britons, especially the most vulnerable, who have borne the brunt of the effects of inflation, braced for more sacrifices: for saying “no” more often to their children, for making more trips to multiple supermarkets to find discounts, for joining lines at the food banks and for making more compromises to their health.Many Britons are concerned that their leaders have left the country rudderless during the growing economic crisis. The government is embroiled in a leadership transition, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson working out his last few weeks in Downing Street before a successor is announced on Sept. 5. Parliament itself is not in session, and vacation season is in full swing, with Mr. Johnson being spotted in Greece over the weekend — his second foreign holiday in recent weeks.In the meantime, residents are scrambling to cope, often forced to make hard choices.At Iceland, a low-cost supermarket with an emphasis on frozen food, Tainara Graciano, 51, a housekeeper in London, carried a basket with two cartons of eggs and discounted chicken nuggets that were expiring on the same day. She had cut back on bottled water since prices began spiraling up.“He drinks a lot,” she said of the water, looking at her 11-year-old son as he strolled by. Then she pointed at her half-empty basket and said, “Five months ago, I carried two of those.”Britons have been making more trips to multiple supermarkets to seek out lower prices.Andy Rain/EPA, via ShutterstockAcross the street, Arwen Joseph, 47, was shopping for house supplies at the low-cost store Poundland.Ms. Joseph, who is on government benefits and sometimes uses a food bank, said it had been harder to buy healthful food that was compatible with her allergies, which give her severe eczema. As a result, she has cut back on other items.“We used to have ice cream or bubble tea maybe once a week,” said her 9-year-old daughter, Georgia Gold. “Now we haven’t had it so much.”Volunteers at food banks say they have been caught off guard and are now struggling to keep up as more people arrive asking for help.Solomon Smith, who runs the Brixton Soup Kitchen in South London, which provides hot meals and other food bank services to those in need, said the number of people using the service had more than doubled in recent months.“People are telling us they haven’t eaten properly for days,” he said. “Some of them have been forced to go into shops to steal. Others don’t know if they should pay their gas bills or eat food.”The food bank itself has not escaped the inflation squeeze. It has had to cut back on hot meals and food purchases, and has seen public donations dry up, according to Mr. Smith.“We just don’t have enough to give to everyone,” he said, his voice wavering. “I don’t know what is going to happen next week.”People across Britain are confronting similar problems.At the Blackburn Food Bank, in the north of England, more people with full-time employment are turning up as wages have not kept up with the inflation.“People are very shocked that they have to be here,” said Gill Fourie, operations manager at Blackburn. “People don’t even have gas and electricity to cook,” she said, referring to mounting household energy prices which are forecast to climb to 3,500 pounds (about $4,240) a year in October, triple what they were a year ago. She added, however, that the facility continued to receive support from the community. Even people who are in less vulnerable situations have had to watch their wallets.“I would love to get some Mutti, but I cannot afford it,” said Melanie McHugh, an actress, as she looked at cans of tomato sauce at her local supermarket in south London. She said she was going to make shakshuka, a vegetable dish that could last for several days. She went for a cheaper brand of sauce.Ms. McHugh, who has stopped buying butter, also grabbed a lower cost brand of chorizo.“I am aware that I am lucky,” she said. “But I am also aware my habits have changed.”The British government has allocated £15 billion (about $18 billion) in benefits for the most vulnerable families. Ms. Smith, the mother of three, said she had received about 300 pounds this month. She has also stockpiled laundry soap, but said that did not ease her worries. She has started thinking of giving up her car and getting another job, as a cleaner, on weekends.“It’s not what I would like to do,” she said. “But you have to do what you need to survive.” More