Why Better Times (and Big Raises) Haven’t Cured the Inflation Hangover

Some 64 percent of Pennsylvanians responding to a Quinnipiac poll in early January described their financial situation as excellent or good; 24 percent characterized it as “not so good,” and only 9 percent called it poor. But in the same survey, only 33 percent of Pennsylvanians described “the state of the nation’s economy” as excellent or good.

Vocal frustration with more expensive gas and food, rent-raising landlords and premium-raising insurance companies still animates small talk among friends. Home prices have soared, a blessing for homeowners but a curse for those seeking to join their ranks. Child care and elder care costs, rising before the pandemic, are still ascending. (And beyond needs like auto insurance, there is annoyance with the $4 bag of chips in the checkout aisle, or a $10 pint of beer that used to be $7.)

The most popular measure of national consumer sentiment, tracked by the University of Michigan since 1978, has reached its highest level since July 2021, before the worst of inflation hit. But sentiment hasn’t fully recovered. It remains suspended halfway between its all-time low in June 2022 — when inflation topped at 9 percent — and its peak in the 21st century, around New Year’s Eve 2019.

“Trying to make yourself happy is difficult,” said Lindsay Danella, an Altoona, Pa., native.

At 39, she recently left a job making over $70,000 as a general manager at a hotel where she said executives dealt with understaffing during and after the pandemic by asking managers like her to do more of everything without offering more flexibility or pay.

Now, as a server at Levity Brewing in downtown Altoona, she makes the legal subminimum wage for tipped workers in the state, about $3, but says she has found ways to “love it” despite that low base. Business is good, so tips are plentiful on weekends. And the taproom, which opened in 2022 in a remodeled space with floor-to-ceiling windows, is part of a district that has been revitalizing since 2021.

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