The Margin: People are having a cow over CNN’s ’12 gallons of milk a week’ segment — here’s why
An interview with a small-town family about their grocery shopping habits went viral Thursday morning — and Twitter had a cow.
A five-minute segment on CNN set out to answer the question: “What does inflation mean for American families?” Correspondent Evan McMorris-Santoro traveled to Kennedale, Texas, to hear from one family about how rising prices have impacted their lives.
“The other thing that inflation is affecting right now is food prices. These are things that you have to buy,” McMorris-Santoro said while setting up the segment.
But a lot of people on Twitter
were questioning if you “have” to buy what this couple does: 12 gallons of milk — a week. And this led “milk” and “12 gallons of milk” to trend on the social network throughout Thursday afternoon.
Granted, the family in question isn’t small by any means. The Stotlers said they have two biological children, six adopted children and one foster child, for a grand total of 11 mouths to feed.
“We started seeing everything going up. Grocery prices went up. A gallon of milk was $1.99. Now it’s $2.79. When you buy 12 gallons a week, times four weeks, you know, that’s a lot of money,” Krista Stotler told CNN.
But that quote had a lot of people questioning the CNN interview and its subjects. After all, a price increase from $1.99 to $2.79 is a 40% spike, which is much higher than the inflation rate of around 5% over the past year.
Many viewers also pointed out that the national average for a gallon of milk hasn’t been anywhere near $1.99 in decades.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average price for a gallon of milk has been well above $1.99 for years, going for $2.94 in September 2001.
The national average of milk prices from September 2001 through September 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
But that’s a national average. Milk prices can certainly vary by place.
A quick search on Kroger’s website — where the family is shown shopping in the CNN segment — shows that a gallon of milk at the grocery store nearest the Stotlers is indeed going for $2.79.
A gallon of milk goes for $2.79 at the Kroger grocery store near the Stotler family.
It’s hard to know how much a gallon of milk cost a few months ago at this particular store, but data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that the average price of a gallon of milk in Dallas was $2.86 in January 2021. That rose to $3.29 in October, a 15% increase. That’s steep, but not quite the 40% increase the Stotlers said they experienced.
Others are questioning why CNN is focusing on milk inflation when housing prices have soared, health care costs can be crippling, and the student debt crisis lingers.
“There’s always some story like ‘people are suffering because milk went up 5 cents’ and never ‘we have to budget for milk because our rent went up $500, our health care is $10,000/year, my kids’ college fund requires $100k and every house in our budget is now $100k more expensive,’” one CEO tweeted.
Jokes aside, inflation is more of a problem than the Federal Reserve had previously let on. The central bank finally admitted Wednesday that U.S. inflation is likely to “exceed 2% for some time.”
Read more: Fed still thinks surging U.S. inflation won’t last, but it’s now hedging its bets
The Fed had been insisting that the surging inflation in the U.S. was “transitory,” but now predicts the mounting inflation will stick around for longer than expected.
Using the Fed’s preferred Personal Consumption Expenditure price index, the yearly pace of inflation surged to 4.4% in the 12 months as of September, hitting a 30-year high. Meanwhile, the consumer price index increase has shot up 5.4% over the past year.
Inflation is eating into wage gains, raising the cost of living, and could threaten the economic recovery from the pandemic. Families are paying more for the essentials: food, gas and rent.
And rising food prices are clearly hurting the Stotlers, even if their milk consumption seems comically high.
“You can go down to beans and rice, and still sustain pretty economically,” Larry Stotler said. “We don’t want to have to do that. You want to, you know, enjoy what you’re purchasing, but there’s another level you can get to just to make sure you make it through.”
“We’re not buying the most healthy stuff because the prices have gone way up. But I feel kind of guilty. Sometimes we can’t afford the really good things that would be healthier also,” he added.