‘America’s middle class is at risk’ in inflation-ridden Texas

“Thank you for everything you’ve done! You have such a big heart, you can’t imagine how much you’ve helped me!” Elena sits behind the wheel of her pickup truck with the window down, praising the Food Bank employee who just took her contact information. Behind the two women is a long line of cars in a parking lot south of Austin, the capital of the state of Texas (USA). On this day at the end of October, there are dozens of drivers waiting to load boxes full of canned food and vegetables into the trunks of the “autosh” volunteers.

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“Of course we will have a continuous flow of cars throughout the distribution”points out Paul Gaither, communications manager for the Central Texas Food Bank, standing between two trays of vegetables. Between April and September, the organization saw an 11% increase in requests for help compared to the previous six months. According to NBC*, it correlates with inflation in the United States, which reached 8.2% over the year in September. A level not seen in 40 years.

A food bank distributes boxes of fresh and frozen produce on October 25, 2022 in Austin, Texas, USA.  (MARIE-VIOLETTE BERNARD / FRANCEINFO)

In this context, according to a series of polls by the Gallup Institute*, it is not surprising that the economy has become the main concern of Americans ahead of the midterm elections. For Republicans, the rising prices are also an opportunity to attack Joe Biden’s record and try to regain control of Congress from the Democrats on Tuesday, November 8.

In Texas, which has traditionally been conservative, some voters are less adamant about the politicians responsible for the economic crisis. “I wish our elected officials would try to make things better, but most of them don’t care what happens to people like me.”The 59-year-old chef sweeps Luisi, who comes to distribute. “Regardless of the party in power, we will continue to suffer”he shakes his head Russell, a 76-year-old retiree, waited a little longer in the parking lot.

Like other Austin residents interviewed by Franceinfo, this former soldier is more worried about the state of his bank account than the upcoming election. “Many Texans face dire choices every day: pay their medical bills, pay their bills or pay for their food.”Justifies Paul Gaither of the Food Bank.

Nicky, an Austin resident, distributes food aid from the Central Texas Food Bank (USA) on October 25, 2022.  (MARIE-VIOLETTE BERNARD / FRANCEINFO)

This is the case of Niki, who accompanies her sister to a distribution for the first time. In recent months, the rent of this employee of a supermarket chain has increased “$200”his accounts “100 dollars”. “Salaries don’t move”complains about thirty. “The money I save with this food aid will allow me to buy toilet paper or shampoo or pay for gas to get to work.he is happy. For now, we can afford everything by organizing ourselves well.”

Russell is not so lucky. Every time the line of cars stops, the pensioner immediately cuts the engine. “My tank is almost empty and I only have $9 left in my pocket.she admits, her eyes half hidden by a pale hat. The price of gasoline has increased a lot, so I try to consume as little as possible.” His meager stipend of $1,040 is used to support himself, as well as his nephew, his wife and three children. “They lost their jobs during the pandemic and came to live with me. Even if my nephew gets a job, it’s not enough to help me with the charges.”

“Every month we have to decide what bill to pay. I try to pay each company something so they don’t cut us any service. But I already have an unpaid bill of $600 just for electricity.”

Russell, retired

On the Franceinfo website

“Anything to help close the month is positive”, Russell continues. To limit costs as much as possible, the septuagenarian comes to the Food Bank distributions twice a month. “We manage to last a week with packages and rations”he breathes. “In recent months, applicants have come more often, but more often”Supports Central Texas Food Bank President Sari Watske.

“There is a chronic dependency on food aid, even though some only come in for emergency assistance occasionally.”

Sari Watske, President of the Central Texas Food Bank

On the Franceinfo website

Family benefit recipients find themselves “low income” At the beginning of the month, especially due to rising prices, the head of the organization noticed that the volunteers and employees were busy around the cars. The Food Bank itself suffers from inflation.

A worker works at the Central Texas Food Bank warehouse in Austin on Oct. 25, 2022.  (MARIE-VIOLETTE BERNARD / FRANCEINFO)

“Fuel is more expensive for our fleet of heavy-duty trucks used to transport food aid across Central Texas. Loads at our headquarters have increased.”List Sari Watske, citing a 12,500 sq ft building with offices, storage and a kitchen.We have also decided to increase the salaries of the employees to compensate them for the loss of power. Purchase.”

At the other end of the parking lot, the engine of Elena’s pickup coughs without a soothing screech. “No! You have to wait a little longer”, begs the driver, touching the steering wheel in a mixture of English and Spanish. Before the pandemic, this mother of nine had never been to a food aid distribution. “My husband has a painting business and we were doing wellshe says without stopping to smile. But in the last two years, he has had very little work: people don’t have money to work at home.” The garage will have to wait for major repairs.

His stay-at-home mother Yelena also came to Austin on October 25, 2022 to pick up a food aid package.  (MARIE-VIOLETTE BERNARD / FRANCEINFO)

However, it’s hard to do anything in Austin without a vehicle. “Taking public transport turns a 30-minute journey into a 2-hour journey”Michael Tullius, philanthropy director of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul of Austin, a Catholic charity. “When faced with financial hardship, many would rather sleep in their car than pay the rent”sitting in a small cluttered office in the north of the city continues into the forties.

“It is impossible to go to work without a car, to do a second job to earn a living, to take children to school and to the doctor.”

Michael Tullius, head of the charitable program of the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

On the Franceinfo website

Local Echo * estimates that in 2021, there were more than 3,000 homeless people in Austin. A phenomenon that Michael Tullius attributes in part to rising real estate prices in the Texas capital. “One of the cheapest cities” According to the United States of America New York Times*. The Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul offers financial assistance to tenants in difficulty, “Within the limit of twice a year due to our small budget”. “We see residents whose landlords raise their rent by $300-$600 when their leases are renewed.Michael condemns Tullius. The most vulnerable people who can’t afford to pay that much end up on the streets or forced to leave Austin.”

If inflation leads to disastrous consequences for the most dangerous inflation, everyone feels the effect”, Marta says. This banker admits that he is in a comfortable position, “Without obligation to deprive oneself of price increase”. However, as he wandered the aisles of the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul store, “no deal”. “We are trying to be vigilant. My son was fired twice during the pandemic, he came back to live with us”he testifies.

“He’s working again, but he’s making less than before and he has debts to pay. With the rent going up, he can’t afford to move.”

Martha, a resident of Austin

On the Franceinfo website

“The face of security has changed”, confirms Sari Watske. About 93% of families assisted by the Central Texas Food Bank have a stable home, and two-thirds have at least one working adult. However, 60% of these households need the share of the NGO to survive. “We see people with nice cars are embarrassed to ask for help to get enough”Michael Tullius is rich.

Four years ago, the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul helped more than 80 families during the weekly food distribution. Now there are 800 families flocking to the door of the organization every Saturday. Also, the association’s shop, which offers furniture and clothing at ridiculous prices, is always full.

Austin, Texas (United States of America), October 27, 2022.  (MARIE-VIOLETTE BERNARD / FRANCEINFO) Customers at the thrift store of the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

“The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour. For many people, that means not having a decent living.” Michael relieves Tullius. Without taking measures to help them, “America’s middle class is slowly becoming dangerous”association head judge. “Public and private actors, political leaders… We must all come together to find lasting solutions to food security, Sari also begs Vatske. And the voice of the poorest must be heard.” Michael Tullius argues that there is only one possible solution to this, regardless of which party supports it: “Vote on Tuesday, November 8.”

* Links marked with asterisks refer to content in English.

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