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Uncertainty remains at the forefront for the U.S. consumer, with decades-high inflation exacerbated by supply chain bottlenecks and geopolitical conflicts triggering a sharp change in monetary policy. April CPI rose 8.3% year-over-year, down slightly from March’s 8.5% but still well above the Fed’s 2% target and the second highest print since 1982. Supply side dynamics, with consumers facing shortages from baby formula to custom kitchen deliveries, complicate the job of the Fed, whose tools only impact the demand side.
Despite increases in nominal earnings in line with long-term trends, inflation has outpaced wage growth, resulting in a downtrend in real weekly earnings since early 2021. With job openings still far exceeding the number of unemployed workers, many sectors across the economy are looking to fill vacancies. While higher wages are one way to attract workers, the decline in real wages is unlikely to abate until inflationary pressures can be contained. Wage growth can be a double-edged sword, with higher wages helping the consumer but contributing to sustained inflation. As the Fed looks to engineer a soft landing, reining in inflation without tipping the economy into recession, health of the U.S. consumer will be key. So far, the U.S. consumer and the labor market remain strong, but there are many moving pieces and there is much more to be done to stabilize prices.
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