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People of all political beliefs share view on how inflation is hurting families | Opinion

UW survey shows political party leanings had little impact in how people view inflation

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Janesville City Council member sees inflation stinging his community in a variety of ways, most notably in housing. 

“Some people are really having to struggle with finding affordable housing. Our vacancy rate in Janesville is less than 1% vacancies,” Jackson said. “And because of supply and demand, there's no supply so the demand of people wanting to move to our city is very high.” 

Recently, the Journal Sentinel reported that Milwaukee and Wisconsin saw some of the fastest-rising rent prices in the country, having a median price rise 5.3% from March 2023 to 2024. 

In fact, the issue unifies all Wisconsinites — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike. It ranks at the top of issues residents rated as most significant problems they face. And while it is a common problem for all, inflation has an outsized impact on the young, according to the “WisconSays” survey of nearly 4,000 residents conducted by the  in partnership with the .

The survey is part of The Main Street Agenda, a project designed to focus on the issues Wisconsinites rank as most important heading into the 2024 election.

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As the ages of survey participants increased, their rating of inflation as a problem decreased. Those aged 18 to 30 were nearly two times more likely to rate inflation as an “extremely big problem” compared to those aged 61 plus.

According to , during the COVID-19 pandemic, dramatically, going from 1.5% in March 2020 to a high of 9.1% in June 2022. Currently, the national inflation rate is 3.4%, which is higher than the Federal Reserve policymakers target inflation rate of 2%.  

It’s no surprise that 63% of people in the survey rated inflation as a “quite a big problem” or “extremely big problem,” making it the most recognized problem in the entire survey.  

Younger, less wealthy people rated inflation as a bigger problem  

Interpreting the results of the survey, participants' age and income affected how they rated inflation as a problem, with younger and lower income respondents rating it a bigger problem than others.  

What didn’t largely affect participants' rating was their political party, seeing similarities among Democrats, Republicans and independents. 

Survey data shows that as the ages of the participants increased, their rating of inflation as a problem decreased. Those aged 18 to 30 were nearly two times more likely to rate inflation as an “extremely big problem” compared to those aged 61 plus.  

Many young people work minimum wage jobs, making $7.25 an hour. Trenton Dart, a recent college graduate from Luxemburg, has seen the biggest impact in food prices, which have increased dramatically over the years. 

“Before inflation got bad, it was probably like 10 bucks for a burger and fries, and now it's like 20 bucks,” Dart said. 

The difference amongst those experiencing financial hardships versus those who aren’t when it comes to inflation is dramatic. According to the survey data, those who describe themselves as financially “much worse off” are 44% more likely to rate inflation as an “extremely big problem” than those financially “much better off.”  

Nationally, inflation hits low-income people the hardest. Typically, states attempt to combat the rising cost of living by increasing the minimum wage. However, here in Wisconsin that hasn’t been the case, with the minimum wage being $7.25 since 2009. Several bills by Democrats haven’t made it out of committees controlled in the Legislature, which has been controlled by Republicans since 2010. 

“I don't think $7.25 is a livable wage. You're not gonna live anywhere nice and you're gonna have enough money for food or anything special,” Dart said. 

Some argue that corporate profits are the main driver. Groundwork Collaborative, a progressive advocacy group focusing on the economy, reported that corporate profits accounted for more than from April to September of 2023. Comparatively, over the 40 years prior to the pandemic, profits drove just 11% of price growth. 

William Walter, executive director of an independent social justice organization, argues that a lack of competition due to corporate monopolies is a reason for this, with it being easier for companies to increase prices with no repercussions due to consumers not having another option but to pay for the high prices.  

He said the reason for minimum wage in Wisconsin not increasing is due to legislators and how they are positively affected by their constituents having a low minimum wage.  

“A lot of the power players who make these decisions benefit from it and when you're the one who makes these decisions, you're going to do and say things that help you more than help other people,” Walter said. 

WisconSays survey participants rate eleven social topics on a scale of "not a problem" to an "extremely big problem" in Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Madison Survey Center.

However, Jackson says the answer to fighting inflation is not raising the minimum wage. Rising wages and a robust job market have been factors in inflation continuing to run higher than policymakers expected. 

“When workers get more money in their paycheck, they also pay more at the pump, they pay more rent,” Jackson said “We've got to look at this situation through different lenses and realize the answer is not in raising the minimum wage. It's somehow getting a handle on inflation itself.” 

Political party identification doesn’t change view of issue 

Democrats, Republicans and independents in the survey had similar results when ranking how much of a problem inflation is. This may appear surprising, given how Wisconsin is often described as a politically divided state. But actually, the WisconSays data shows people in Wisconsin viewed the scope of the problem similarly.  

“Whether you're Republican, independent or Democrat, ultimately, this is an all-inclusive problem, just a different level of problem according to one's income,” Jackson said. 

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Likewise, Dart is not surprised there are dramatic political party differences in how people view inflation.

"I think people also feel that that's the issue that's affecting them, like it actually directly affects them, compared to  some other issues that were only directed to certain people," he said. "This one affects everyone making money."

Zoe Takaki is an intern for the Ideas Lab. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago, where she studied journalism.