Gas prices portend recession

It’s a word that most hate to say, but many economists are saying it. The period, now termed by some as “The Great Recession,” has arrived. Many Americans’ wallets are feeling a lot less heavier now, especially with rising gas prices.”I think the gas prices are outrageous,” said Vallon Wilson, a junior at GSU. “It takes me around $70 to fill up.”

Wilson drives a Chevy Tahoe, capable of holding 26 gallons when full. This prevents Wilson from doing some activities she’s familiar with.

“I can’t go a lot of places that I’d like to go,” she said. “I can’t do as much traveling as I’d like to do.”

However, rising gas prices isn’t the only problem facing Americans. Steadily rising food costs aren’t just causing grocery shoppers to do a double-take at the checkout line.

The worst case of food inflation in nearly 20 years has more Americans giving up restaurant meals to eat at home. We’re buying fewer luxury food items, eating more leftovers and buying more store brands instead of name-brand items.

Record-high energy, corn and wheat prices in the past year have led to sticker shock in the grocery aisles. At $1.32, the average price of a loaf of bread has increased 32 percent since January 2005. In the last year alone, the average price of carton of eggs has increased almost 50 percent.

Ground beef, milk, chicken, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, coffee and orange juice are among the staples that cost more these days, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overall, food prices rose nearly 5 percent in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means a pound of coffee, on average, cost 57 cents more at year’s end than in 2006. A 12-ounce can of frozen, concentrated orange juice now averages $2.53 – a 67-cent increase in just two years.

“The economy is having a definite impact on shopper behavior,” said Tim Hammonds, president and chief executive officer of the Food Marketing Institute, a retail trade group. “People are significantly changing what they do.”

Soaring prices are causing shoppers to rethink long-held habits such as store loyalty.
Wal-Mart and other supercenters that sell food now account for 24 percent of the market, according to the most recent annual survey of shopping habits by Hammonds’ organization.

In 2007, the FMI survey showed the average number of weekly shopping trips falling below two per household for the first time.

Nationwide, a family of four on a moderate-cost shopping plan now spends an average of $904 each month for groceries, an $80 increase from two years ago, according to the USDA.

News editor Darryl D. Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report.