'We're struggling': 3 years after pandemic shut down the economy, workers face yet another crisis

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Saturday, March 18, 2023
Will pre-pandemic prices ever return? Economists say it's unlikely
March marks three years since the pandemic disrupted the economy, and while jobs are back, workers say they need something better to be able to afford bills. Here's why experts say prices are hiking.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- This month marks three years since the pandemic disrupted the economy. While jobs are back, workers face another issue.

Job seekers in Sunnyside looked for work at an event this week. Neighbors told ABC13 they had a job but needed something better because it's hard to afford bills.

"It would mean everything to me because I have kids I have to provide for, so it would mean a lot," Trevionne Palmer explained.

The reason why more money is needed is what's happening with the prices of goods. Over the past year, it's hit a 40-year high. It is a number expected to slow down soon.

"If I were to take a shot in the dark here, I'd probably say six months to a year - we may be converging back to 2% inflation, but that is going to depend on a lot of things," Fiscal Insights founder Jorge Barro said.

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Reducing prices could hinge on how banks handle higher interest rates and what happens with the war in Ukraine. Even if all goes well, experts say you may not find familiar prices.

"In terms of prices reverting back to what they were pre-pandemic, I don't think we'll see that again," Barro said.

Experts say the reason is stimulus bills and lower interest rates enticing people to make large purchases at increased prices. It's still taking its toll.

The latest Consumer Price Index report showed all goods are up by 6%, while wages only climbed 4% from last year.

Some CenterPoint Energy customers are about to feel the pinch even more. The company said some customers will soon see a dollar increase in their monthly bill.

CenterPoint Energy sent ABC13 the following statement:

"In the wake of Winter Storm Uri in 2021, a new law went into effect that year allowing transmission and distribution utilities, such as CenterPoint Energy, to implement actions to lessen both the frequency and customer impact of power outages. CenterPoint Energy answered the call by, among other things, procuring temporary emergency electric energy facilities to aid in restoring and rotating power to distribution customers during certain widespread power outages, which are defined by the legislation. CenterPoint Energy has already used these emergency facilities in response to Hurricane Nicholas in Sept. 2021, and after the devastating EF3 tornado in January of this year. In addition, the company lent some facilities to Austin Energy after the recent ice storms in the Austin area. These temporary emergency electric energy facilities have proven to be assets that allow the company to restore outages quicker and in turn, allow communities to recover quicker from these severe storms. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has approved the recovery for the use of CenterPoint Energy's temporary emergency electric energy facilities and will issue a final order in the next couple of weeks. It will include an effective date and total customer impact, which we anticipate will be approximately $1 a month for residential customers."

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If you're looking for help, there are jobs available. Workforce Solutions says it receives about 500 new openings a day.

"You can't expect to walk back into the job you lost if you're not getting the results you want," Workforce Solutions spokesperson Michelle Castrow said. "That's an indicator that the job just doesn't exist."

Experts say applying may not work either. You may need to learn a new skill.

"It doesn't mean getting another four-year degree," Castrow explained. "It does mean getting skills that are going to make you relevant to the job market today."

A higher-paying job is what these neighbors are after. They say they're trying to do the best to afford higher prices.

"It's hell," Palmer said. "Prices are going up. We're struggling."

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