The Best of…Baby Boomers Tighten Belts to Pay for Rising Food Costs, Says AARP

         Published August 4, 2008, All Pawtucket All the Times    

         A soft economy, combined with stagnate wage increases and skyrocketing fuel prices, are hitting aging baby boomers right in their wallets. On top of this they must also juggle their household budgets to pay for rising food costs, too, impacted by egg, dairy and poultry price increases.  According to a June 2008 AARP Bulletin on Rising Food Costs, older consumers are taking the necessary steps to rein in their rising household food expenses.   

            The AARP telephone survey findings, taken from a nationally represented sample of 1,009 people ages 45 and older, revealed that over fifty percent responding to the survey have taken the necessary steps to cope with rising food prices.  Slightly half of the respondents believe that there is a global food shortage.  However, less than half of those surveyed think that certain food items may need to be rationed within the next year.  Most of those surveyed blame the government directly for food cost increases 

            The June telephone survey found that almost half of those polled (49%) believe that food prices have caused a hardship on their budget.  Consumers, ages 45 to 49 (69%) were more like than those age 50 and over (49%) to report that they have started cutting back on summer entertaining to cope with rising food prices.  In addition, almost four out of five respondents (78%) ages 45 to 49 said that they have started eating out less, compared to over half of those 50 years old and over (54%).

Boomers Dining Out Less

            Just over half of those polled (53%) do not think it is likely that certain food items may need to be rationed within the next year.  Four out of five (81%) reported that they have not started eating fewer meals in the past six months.  However, over half have started using discount coupons at grocery stores (57%) and started buying generic grocery brand items (56%), and one in five (19%) have started eating fewer meals.

            Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (71%) think that the government is responsible for rising food prices.  Two out of five respondents (44%) think that national disasters play a role in rising food costs.  Respondents were less likely to think that restaurants (11%), farmers (16%), grocery stores (28%), or food processing plants L(29%) were responsible for these rising costs. 

            Slightly over half of the respondents (52%) think that there is a global food shortage. Respondents ages 50 plus (55%) are more likely than those ages 49 to 49 (38%) to think there is a global food shortage.  However, those age 50 and over (39%) are less likely than those ages 45 to 49 (51%) to think that certain food items may need to be rationed within the next year.

In Rhode Island…

            Like those polled by AARP, Rhode Islanders are also seeking ways to lower their household expenses, by eating out less.  As reported by the Providence Journal on July 22, 2008 (Down Turn Eats into Restaurant Sales), the state’s Division of Taxation has reported a drop of 9 percent in the state’s meals and beverage tax, when compared with the same time period a year ago. Providence,Warwick,Newport and Cranstonhad a decrease of 10.5 percent, 2.9 percent, 8.0 percent and 13.7 percent, respectively. Pawtucket’s numbers decreased by 5.3 percent.

             Lay offs, and food and fuel increases are bringing more families into the state’s food stamp program.  A March 31 article in The New York Times (As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp use Nears Record) reported that Rhode Island saw an increase of 18 percent in the state’s food stamp recipients over the last two ears, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the population.

             “Clearly the economy is hurting both [Rhode Island’s] poor and middle class,” says Kathleen Connell, AARP State Director. “People are just tightening their belts and many are struggling to spend their money on just the essentials to make ends meet,” she says.

             Connell says that when people go out to eat they may now choose less costly items off the menu, or even cut down on the number of trips to their favorite local restaurant.  Grocery shopping lists may well include cheaper food items, too, she says.  “It remains to be seen what the winter will bring to baby boomers struggling to pay rising food costs with the expected National Grid utility increases.”

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues. This article appeared in the August 4, 2008 issue of All Pawtucket All The Time.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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