November 11, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Bank of America discovered something this week while examining sales. It found that people are buying a lot of pregnancy tests, which may hint that we are about to see a post-pandemic baby boom, or at least a boomlet. There would be many beneficiaries CNBC reports:

One of the leading indicators of the potential “millennial baby boom” is elevated sales of pregnancy tests. Sales of pregnancy tests have grown by an average of 13% year over year since June 2020, according to data from Nielsen and research by Bank of America. This compares with an average of up 2% year over year from 2016 to 2019.

If this plays out, it would reverse a decline in births during the pandemic. Live births increased 3.3% in June 2021, the highest level of growth seen since 2013, according to Bank of America research.

In a monthly survey by the company, 11.3% of respondents said they or their partner are expecting or trying to have a baby over the next 12-month period. That survey was conducted in October with approximately 1,000 people. It marked an all-time high since Bank of America launched the survey in December 2020.

Inflation is one of the hottest topics right now

You have no doubt seen the newest Consumer Price Index inflation figures, just issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Inflation was one of the hottest topics on voters’ minds in this month’s elections. Nothing drives voter passions more than rising food, fuel and medicine prices.

Let’s look at where voters said they were most interested in inflation as a key election issue in the last couple of weeks. Axios and Google are tracking what people are searching for these days as a way to find out what election-season issues people want to know about.


Axios reports:

Inflation made up a bigger share of Google searches in Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-Nevada) district than any other district. He is also a top 2022 target for the NRCC.

Unemployment: Nevada’s 3rd, south of Las Vegas, represented by Rep. Susie Lee, a Democrat, pulled in the largest share of unemployment-related searches.

Immigration was biggest in Rep. Danny Davis’ solidly blue 7th district in Illinois, which includes part of Chicago.

Abortion rights: Progressive Rep. Mondaire Jones’ (D-N.Y.) district posted the most google interest in the topic.

“Big Lie” was most searched by constituents in Rep. Stephanie Bice’s (R-Okla.) district, followed by vulnerable Democrat Lizzie Fletcher’s district in Texas. Bice was among the Republicans who backed the Jan. 6 commission but pledged earlier this year not to make it a “witch hunt” against former President Trump.

Understanding inflation by using the Consumer Price Index

The Consumer Price Index reported this week that, at the consumer level, inflation is rising at a rate of about 6.2% a year.

You may not know that you can get local with this data by focusing on big cities and states. Go here to see that data.

The CPI is based on the prices of food, clothing, shelter, fuels, transportation, doctors’ and dentists’ services, drugs, and other goods and services that people buy for day-to-day living. Economists sometimes back energy and food costs out of the CPI and, if you did, it would put the year-over-year rate at 4.6%. But, really, why would you back out energy (heating and gasoline) and food? That would leave an inflation rate that reflects only car prices, clothing and other more optional expenses without including the must-haves.

(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Look at the inflation rate, but also consider how the price of consumer goods today compares to the price of the same goods in previous months and years. In some categories, while prices are rising fast now, they are returning to levels that existed before the pandemic.

Let me break it out by some specific items. Let’s start by tracking electricity prices. It is worth noting that we are not at an all-time high, which is hard to remember when you are writing the monthly check. But as Bloomberg points out, “U.S. consumers faced the biggest jump in their energy bills in more than a decade last month, with costs soaring for electricity, natural gas and fuel oil as cooler weather approaches.”

Electricity price inflation. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Electricity prices rose 6.5% from the same month a year ago. Other energy sources rose even faster. Fuel oil rose 59%, and costs for propane and kerosene rose 35%.

You can see that the price of gasoline is the major driver of the October statistics. The price of gas is not out of the historic norm, but the rate at which prices rose from pandemic low prices to where we are now was lightning fast.

Gasoline price inflation. (U.S. Department of Energy)

Let’s step back and look at not just the inflation rate, but the price of gasoline over time:

Price of gasoline. (U.S. Department of Energy)

There may be all sorts of stories to consider around energy inflation. The higher prices prompted me to finally blow more insulation into my attic, something I should have done years ago. The insulation company told me they are busy as heck and that insulation supplies are tight. You could meet with an energy auditor to see where homes lose insulation and show cost-efficient ways to seal heat leaks. Think about what higher energy prices mean to big energy users like bakeries and coin laundries. Think about the double boom that restaurants feel when energy and food prices are among the fastest rising sectors of inflation.

Food price inflation sends more people to food banks

The cost of food in the United States increased 5.3% in October 2021 over the same month in the previous year. It is the highest annual increase since January 2009.

Food price inflation, however, is hitting heights that we have not seen in more than a decade.

Food price inflation. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

My church’s food bank has seen this issue arise just in the last couple of weeks. More people show up each week now than we would see in a month before the pandemic. And higher food costs affect food banks, too. The Associated Press reports:

The higher costs and limited availability mean some families may get smaller servings or substitutions for staples such as peanut butter, which costs nearly double what it did a year ago. As holidays approach, some food banks worry they won’t have enough stuffing and cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“What happens when food prices go up is food insecurity for those who are experiencing it just gets worse,” said Katie Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the efforts of more than 200 food banks across the country.

Food banks that expanded to meet unprecedented demand brought on by the pandemic won’t be able to absorb forever food costs that are two to three times what they used to be, she said.

If you dive into just the food inflation data you will see the section of the grocery store where prices are rising the fastest.

(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

If you go back a decade, you will see that food prices — especially meat, poultry, fish and eggs — make wild swings over time. In 2016, prices dropped more than 5% and then started a march upward before dropping again when the pandemic hit.

October Consumer Price Index. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

State Farm Bureau Associations offer localized food basket surveys. These “marketbasket surveys” include 20 items that people commonly purchase at local stores. This is, for example, the New York Farm Bureau marketbasket survey for typical Thanksgiving items:

(Farm Bureau of New York)

Honoring veterans today runs the numbers as we honor veterans today:

  • 19 million living veterans served during at least one war as of April 2021.
  • 5.9 million veterans served during the Vietnam War.
  • 7.8 million veterans served in the Gulf War era.
  • Of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II, about 240,000 were still alive as of 2021.
  • 933,000 veterans served during the Korean War.
  • As of 2021, the top three states with the highest percentage of Veterans were Alaska, Virginia and Montana.

Why Nov. 11?

In the 11th hour of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.

A group called Military Veterans in Journalism says “2 percent of our media workers are veterans, even though more than 7 percent of Americans have served in our military.”

(Military Veterans in Journalism)

This year, I was honored to work with Military Veterans in Journalism to teach a class of veterans who are working or want to work in journalism (Poynter is an official with the group). The group named a list of outstanding military veterans working in journalism. See the list here. If you want to show your support for veterans, recruit them, mentor them and then hire them.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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