The US inflation wave showed signs of waning last month, posting the smallest increase since late 2020, as rising wages supported continued spending by American shoppers, according to government data released Friday.
The relief was good news for consumers who have been the key support for the US economy, but also for President Joe Biden who has made battling rising prices his top domestic priority.
Surging prices at the grocery store and at the gas pump have hit families and become a political liability for Biden and his Democratic party heading into midterm congressional elections in November.
The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index slowed sharply in April, increasing just 0.2 percent — the smallest monthly rise since November 2020, according to the Commerce Department report.
The world’s largest economy has been battered for months by a cresting inflation wave, made more painful by the surge in energy prices sparked after Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Over the last 12 months, the key inflation measure slowed to 6.3 percent, according to the data.
Excluding volatile food and energy goods, the increase in the “core” PCE price index also lost speed, falling to 4.9 percent.
Biden cheered the signs of progress.
“This morning’s decline in inflation is a sign of progress, even as we have more work to do,” he said in a statement.
“At the same time, inflation is still too high and Putin’s price hike continues to impact food and energy prices.”
He noted that annual core inflation for the latest three months averaged around four percent compared to six percent in the three months before it.
PCE price index is the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge, as it reflects consumers’ actual spending, including shifts to lower cost items, unlike the more well-known consumer price index, which jumped 8.3 percent in April.
The central bank has launched a counter-offensive against inflation with a series of aggressive interest rate hikes to cool the economy.
The process began in March and was followed early this month by a half-point increase, the biggest since 2000, and the Fed signaled similar big hikes are likely in June and July.
– Consumers are resilient –
Fed policymakers argue that the US economy is strong enough to withstand the increased borrowing costs, and though the hot housing market has cooled, consumers show no signs of reducing spending.
Buoyed by rising wages, US personal income rose 0.4 percent compared to March, while personal consumption expenditures (PCE) increased 0.9 percent, slower than the prior month but far stronger than analysts were expecting.
But economists caution it may be too early to declare victory on inflation, given the continued pressure from the conflict in Ukraine on food and energy prices, and ongoing impact on supply chains from the Covid-19 lockdowns in China.
“Consumer spending remained resilient in April. That is a double-edged sword as those gains are creating a floor for how much inflation can moderate on its own,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.
“In response, the Fed will have to more aggressively rein in demand to align with a supply-constrained economy.”
She said central bankers aim “to avert rather than repeat the mistakes of the 1970s.”
Outlays on services were the biggest element of the increase in spending last month, led by food services, but also travel, hotels, housing and utilities.
The report said spending rose across all categories, except for gasoline, led by outlays on autos.
Personal income increased $89.3 billion in April, while disposable personal income rose $48.3 billion and expenditures increased $152.3 billion, the report said.
Americans' pandemic-era entrepreneurial streak is holding strong—for now
Inflation has nothing on the American entrepreneurial spirit, which, judging by the volume of new businesses formed, continues to see potential in the post-pandemic economy.
To better understand the post-COVID-19 outlook for entrepreneurship in the U.S., altLINE analyzed data and reports from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Census Bureau. The data shows that Americans are on track through July of this year to submit 54% more applications to start new businesses compared to the same period in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.
New business applications soared initially at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to close their doors in compliance with local social distancing mandates. Stores saw business plummet and many were never able to reopen their doors, even as public health restrictions eased. The seismic shift in shopping habits spurred many Americans to start new business ventures at rates not seen since before the Great Recession, when the U.S. consumer took a hit from one of the deepest recessions on record.
As the current economic situation puzzles economists who debate whether a recession may be in the future, the continuing creation of businesses could mitigate some of the pain of a slowing economy.
Studies have suggested that the growth of the smallest businesses can help an economy’s resilience. Young, tiny companies, sometimes called “microbusinesses,” reduce local unemployment rates in their communities and have been related to rising household incomes, according to GoDaddy’s July 2021 Venture Forward Report.
COVID-19 recession provides shot in the arm
Advancements in technology made it easier for business owners to set up and run online storefronts and services. Leading up to 2020, ecommerce platforms integrating new technology for enhanced shopper experiences provided a critical foundation for the spike in new businesses. As Americans stayed at home during the height of the pandemic, they shopped online for everything from personal care to groceries. Ecommerce sales nearly doubled in 2020, jumping by 43% to a whopping $815 billion in annual retail sales. Thousands in stimulus checks also did their part to keep Americans afloat—and spending. On top of those factors, interest rates for loans to buoy new companies and purchase real estate were at historic lows.
In the first year of the new business surge, retailers in the fashion space made up the lion’s share of new small businesses, according to the GoDaddy Venture Forward Report.
Today, those new business owners face a much more expensive economy. Costs for labor, gas, clothing, food, and other critical inputs for businesses have risen considerably since 2020.
Ground Picture // Shutterstock
New business class faces considerable headwinds
The typical new business faces its most difficult time in its first years of operation. Historically, 4 in 5 new businesses make it beyond their first year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the odds of survival dwindle in each subsequent year of operation. Based on trends, just 1 in 2 businesses created in 2020 will likely survive beyond 2025.
The entrepreneurs looking to survive now face mounting headwinds in the face of rising interest rates, which has made borrowing money more expensive for both consumers and small business owners.
For small businesses seeking venture funding, seed-stage venture capital has stagnated as the venture capitalist ranks have grown wary of investing in early-stage companies. For those seeking loans, the cost of borrowing money today is at its highest since 2001, when the tech bubble burst, throwing the U.S. into recession.
Story editing by Ashleigh Graf. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on altLINE and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
Robots are starting to deliver takeout orders. Are they here to stay?
In a March 2023 Deloitte survey, 47% of Americans said they would order from a restaurant that delivers food with a drone or an autonomous vehicle. That’s up 3 percentage points from the company’s 2021 survey about restaurant trends.
In that first survey, researchers noted there was “massive uncertainty in the industry, and many worried that restaurant patronage might never recover” from the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that two-thirds of consumers believed they would not immediately return to their pre-pandemic restaurant habits.
In 2023, most restaurant customer behavior is back to normal—though some changes have blended into the industry’s practices. Task Group analyzed the state of autonomous delivery systems, both nationally and internationally, to measure the progress of this technology post-pandemic.
As with other industries, technology has helped maximize efficiency and improve customer satisfaction. Business owners learned new service methods, marketing strategies, and technical terminology. Food delivery skyrocketed during lockdowns, making greater strides in restaurant efficiency and, in some cases, profits. Many restaurant owners connected apps that allowed customers to order without talking to a human to state-of-the-art delivery systems that don’t require a driver.
Restaurants and transportation companies in North America and Europe are experimenting with new automated delivery techniques that can reduce their costs as long as they do not compromise customer satisfaction. And consumers are ready—but how soon will it become standard practice?
Julija Sh // Shutterstock
What are drones and sidewalk delivery vehicles?
The robots most commonly used in the food delivery industry are aerial drones and wheeled autonomous delivery vehicles that travel along sidewalks to reach customers.
Drones are classified by how they generate lift—with fixed wings, rotors, or a combination—by how they’re used, such as food delivery, and what equipment they have on board, including batteries and cameras.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration regulates drone use. The agency requires pilots to be certified—and bans drones within five miles of airports.
For many years, the FAA stood in the way of companies seeking to use drones for deliveries, but in 2019, the agency agreed to allow uncrewed delivery flights beyond the pilot’s line-of-sight by UPS and Wing Aviation, owned and operated by Google’s mothership Alphabet. Since then, the agency has approved drone delivery operations for several companies, including Amazon and Walmart.
According to a study published by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2022, autonomous delivery vehicles are not the future. They’re already here. Self-driving machines about the size of a large cooler are already traveling down our sidewalks and crosswalks to deliver various packages.
Policymakers question how these vehicles will work and interact with people and other vehicles in already congested and chaotic urban environments. The Harvard researchers believe these vehicles “offer the promise of less congestion and greener shipments,” but also “raise concerns about safety and use of road and sidewalk infrastructure.”
While the debate continues, the manufacturers of these robots continue to advance their technology, including using machine learning to improve navigation, efficiency, and safety.
How far off are drone or sidewalk deliveries?
Estonia-based delivery startup Bolt, working with Starship Technologies, has been trialing sidewalk deliveries in Estonia, the U.K., and the U.S. and plans to formally launch robot deliveries later this year in as many as 500 cities in 45 countries.
Bolt’s main competitor, Uber, signed a deal in 2022 with autonomous vehicle startup Nuro “to test driverless food deliveries” in Mountain View, California, and Houston, Texas. Before the agreement, Uber ran a pilot program for sidewalk delivery in Los Angeles, while Nuro delivered Domino’s pizzas in specific areas of Houston for a year.
Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.
This story originally appeared on Task Group and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.
AI “superusers” seek education, fun, and productivity with generative AI
A look at two separate studies by Sparktoro and Salesforce on people’s generative AI use.
Maybe it was through your job. Or simply out of curiosity.
With the rise of generative AI, you’ve probably tried out ChatGPT or a similar tool. But how often are people using these? More interestingly, what motivates them? Both Salesforce and SparkToro sought to find out with two separate studies.
Here are highlights from each report and how they compare:
Work automation and educational pursuits top priorities for AI users
Both Salesforce and SparkToro can agree on this. SparkToro highlighted professional use of the platform as at an “all-time high,” then ranked categories of interest across over 4,000 ChatGPT prompts with these in the top 5:
- Programming: 29.14%
- Education: 23.30%
- Content: 20.79%
- Sales and Marketing: 13.47%
- Personal & Other: 6.73%
Salesforce found that 75% of generative AI users are motivated by streamlined work communications and task automation. The second highest topic of interest? Technically “messing around” (38%), though a close third was learning and education (34%). Both SparkToro and Salesforce posit that education doesn’t just include homework or university coursework—users also use tools like ChatGPT to develop knowledge of other desired educational topics.
Younger generations more likely to use AI than older ones despite general decline in usage
Salesforce surveyed 4,000 people to find out how they use generative AI and what their demographics are. Turns out, most “superusers” — aka those who use the tool every day — are Millennials or Gen Zers (65%). Plus, 70% of the Gen Z participants surveyed said they use generative AI.
Still, SparkToro notes an overall decline in generative AI use regardless of age. After studying monthly traffic data on OpenAI provided by Datos, SparkToro found overall traffic fell by nearly 30%.
Users ask ChatGPT to write, create, and list
These were the top three common words in SparkToro’s assessment in ChatGPT prompts. However, they also share a notable prevalence of the words “game” and “SEO in prompts as well. Other words less commonly used yet enough to come up in the results included judge, SaaS pricing, curriculum, employment, and employer.
Veronica Ott is a freelance writer and digital marketer with a specialization in finance and business. As a CPA with experience in the industry, she’s able to provide unique insight into various monetary, financial and economic topics. When Veronica isn’t writing, you can find her watching the latest films!
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