CLEARWATER, Fla. — The holiday season is upon us. Many in Tampa Bay are spending money on gifts in the countdown to Christmas, but several other families cannot afford presents under the tree this year.
“I try to explain to them that it should be better next year," Pierre Fitzpatrick, a single father of three, said.
Fitzpatrick moved with his three children to Clearwater, Florida, from Cleveland, Ohio, about eight months ago. After his job as a warehouse worker was eliminated due to COVID-19 cutbacks, he took a temporary job at Walgreen's that lasted just two months.
"When I lost that, I couldn’t even afford to live in the hotel," he said.
The Fitzpatricks were forced to turn to Grace House Shelter, housing provided by Hope Villages of America for families living with homelessness.
"It was like getting frustrating, you know. Sharing a bed with your kid," Fitzpatrick said.
Now, the family that lived near Lake Erie, thanks Saint Vincent DePaul CARES for its two-bed Pinellas County house. The Fitzpatrick father works at Wendy's in order to put food on the dinner table.
"It’s difficult, man," he said. "Every dollar is stretched the right way and you have to make sure that everything is taken care of.”
Fitzpatrick makes $11 per hour, just one dollar more than Florida's new state minimum wage.
Thanks to Florida voters in 2020, the minimum wage was raised from $8.65 to $10 this past September. It will increase by one dollar every year until the wage reaches $15 in 2026.
“If we had taken that $15 and adjusted it for inflation, then that really should be $24 an hour," Mike Snipes, an instructor of economics at The University of South Florida, told ABC Action News.
Inflation is hurting wallets across the country.
The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the annual prices of all goods went up 6.2 percent in October. It is the highest inflation spike in over 30 years.
Snipes says Americans want to spend again, but chain supply issues from the pandemic continue to persist.
"It’s really both of those factors coming into play that’s causing this inflation that we’re seeing," he said.
“Food is going up, the gas is going up, and there’s no way to really balance it out, I guess," Fitzpatrick said.
A breakdown of the historic rise in costs shows: gas is nearly 50 percent pricier, food costs more with meat and eggs up 12 percent, and the cost of other essential commodities, like clothes, are 8.4 percent more expensive.
Yet, Snipes says, wages do not reflect the higher cost of living. In his mind, they have not for 20 years.
“Until we get wages that match up with inflation, I mean, things are going to be rough," Snipes said. "Things are going to stay rough.”
But whether it is hope for the sake of his kids, or just the holiday spirit, Fitzpatrick keeps his spirits high in hopes his family will learn to live comfortably, soon enough.
“Things will get better, though," he said. "You know, whatever is going on, things will get better.”
A November poll published by Gallup proves Fitzpatrick is far from alone.
The survey, administered from November 3-16, asked participants, "Have recent price increases caused any financial hardship for you or your household?"
- 45% of participants admitted to recent financial struggle
- 28% of households with incomes less than $40,000 reported "severe hardship"
- 38% of households with incomes between $40,000 and $100,000 reported "moderate hardship"