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The New York Times just provided some important evidence on the big role played by super-charged consumer demand in super-charging inflation – this article showing that the Sun Belt has been the U.S. region where prices have been rising fastest.

The finding matters because a debate has been raging among politicians and economists over the leading causes of multi-decade high inflation rates with which Americans have been struggling over the last year and a half or so.

On one side are those who claim that overly generous government stimulus spending is the main culprit, because it’s increased U.S. buying power much faster than the supply of goods and services has grown. On the other side are those who focus on the inadequate amount of goods and services that companies are turning out, stemming from supply chain disruptions rooted in the stop-and-go nature of the American economy from successive waves of pandemic downturns and slowdowns to the Ukraine war to China’s ridiculously draconian Zero Covid policies.

Clearly, all these developments deserve blame, but the regional disparities in inflation rates provide pretty convincing support for emphasizing bloated demand.

Here’s the latest annual disparity in the headline Consumer Price Index as presented in the Times article:

U.S. total:    8.5 percent

South:          9.4 percent

Midwest:     8.6 percent

West:          8.3 percent

Northeast:   7.3 percent

It correlates roughly, by the way, with the data in this report last spring from the Republican members of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee.

And here’s a principal, demand-related reason: The Sun Belt states of the South and West have been the U.S. states that have gained the most population during the pandemic period. Indeed, according to the latest U.S. Census data, eight of the ten states with the fastest overall population growth between July, 2020 and July, 2021 was a southern or southwestern state, and the same holds for five of the ten states with the fastest population growth in percentage terms.

It’s true that population growth often increases supply, too – by boosting numbers of workers. The U.S. government doesn’t break out job creation along the above regional lines, but a look at individual state totals doesn’t conclusively brand the Sun Belt as an national employment leader. On average, relatively speaking, Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, and Texas have created more jobs from the pandemic-period bottom in April, 2020 through last month, as shown in this table:

U.S. total:    +16.87 percent

California:   +17.98 percent

Florida:        +21.05 percent

Texas:          +17.31 percent

Arizona:       +16.02 percent

Nevada:        +30.92 percent

But don’t forget – many of these states have outsized travel and tourism sectors, and you know what happened to those activities during the worst of the pandemic. So in part, their employment bounced back so quickly because they had plummeted so dramatically as the CCP Virus’ first wave spread.

Moreover, many of these states are big retirement destinations, too, and as their overall population increase makes clear, this trend has intensified since the pandemic arrived. Of course, the workers in any given state don’t only sell goods and services to that state’s population, and a given state’s residents don’t only buy goods and services from providers in that state. Yet it’s certainly noteworthy that the number of the Sun Belt states’ consumers rose faster relative to the national average than the number of Sun Belt workers.

And in this vein, Sun Belt inflation probably is also particularly hot partly because so many of the newcomers are wealthy. Indeed, one recent study found that, early in the pandemic, “Of the 10 states with the largest influx of high-earning households, nine are located in the Sun Belt, including the six-highest ranked states, starting with Florida.”

Because they bring so much spending power to their new home states, these wealthier Americans naturally tend to drive prices up unusually fast.

As the Times article notes, some prominent reasons for scorching Sun Belt inflation are unrelated to population-driven demand growth – notably much lower population densities that generate more gasoline-using driving.  But the impact of population movement and all the disproportionately high inflation it’s clearly creating is hard to ignore.  And if a consumption shock has spurred so much inflation in the Sun Belt, why wouldn’t it be affecting prices this way in the rest of the nation, too?          

 

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