Top consumer and personal finance stories of 2022
December 31, 2022
It’s time for my annual article on the top consumer and personal finance articles of the year. As usual, there aren’t many reporters covering this important topic. However, in addition to the best news, health, political, and science stories of the year, there’s a new category: the top climate change stories. Of course, climate change also will be one of my top picks.
1. Inflation and higher interest rates. Consumers were hit hard with inflation in 2021, with a 40-year high tough to accommodate in most budgets. The Federal Reserve reacted in 2022 with four .075-percentage-point interest rate increases. Unfortunately, this drove up the borrowing costs for credit cards, mortgages, and loans. Between higher interest rates and higher prices for just about everything, it’s been a difficult combination for consumers. Two outside shocks – a global pandemic and a large-scale war in Ukraine – also continue to shake up the economic system.
2. Price gouging. Price gouging is accounting for more than a third of the price increases that are so harmful to consumers, according to Economic Policy Institute. It surprised me that so few people talked about this in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. And, then, the Biden Administration asked corporations, including the gas companies, to keep prices for consumers down. Of course, they didn’t. Biden could have put a price cap on some escalating prices, especially gas prices, but he didn’t act on that policy option.
3. Help for consumers. The Inflation Reduction Acts helps consumers by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, capping out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors, extending marketplace subsidies for Affordable Care Act policies, preventing drug companies from hiking prices above the inflation rate, and cracking down on wealthy tax cheats. See climate change below for other benefits of the act for consumers.
4. Customer service. Poor customer service -- on line, over the phone, in stores, and in medical settings -- that was thrust on consumers during the height of the pandemic is continuing. Consumers are so frustrated. Companies, especially corporations, seem unwilling to solve the problem, although corporations are figuring out how to give record payouts to shareholders. The Southwest Airlines travel debacle around the Christmas holiday this year is an example. The company failed to update its computer scheduling system although it scheduled a payout of about $428 million in dividends in early 2023 to shareholders.
5. Democrats hold on to the Senate. Since I’ve been reporting on government consumer policy for decades, I was apprehensive about a Republican takeover of the House and Senate. Under the Trump administration, regulatory enforcement dropped sharply. Since Democrats kept control of the Senate, at there will be less damage to consumer protection with whacky Republican ideas gathering support. Under the Trump administration, one of the many anti-consumer policies was a proposal to do away with state consumer protection.
6. The January 6th committee. Due to the work of the January 6th committee, Americans were able to find out in detail what led up to the storming of the U.S. Capitol and the attack itself. What I couldn’t figure out when I watched the insurrection unfold on television is why the rioters weren’t stopped. Now we know. The Trump administration didn’t want it to be seen as though there was a “military” presence for his “rally” and when the crowded turned violent, Trump did nothing to stop it and other government officials were slow to act.
7. Gun violence. Injuries and deaths from guns continued to increase in 2022. Firearms killed more children and adolescents in 2020 than car accidents, which had long been the leading cause of death for young people. While states with tighter gun laws have lower death rates, the gun industry and gun advocates keep fighting regulations. With an estimated 400 million guns in the country, the United States has more guns that people.
8. Health. For good news, the drug lobby wasn’t able to stop Democrats from passing a law allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a move that’s been needed for decades. In addition, the flu and pneumonia dropped off the list of the top 10 causes of deaths in the United States – probably because parts of the population remained masked against the coronavirus – and were replaced by diseases of the liver, which are often related to alcohol use or viruses. Heart disease and cancer continued as the leading causes of death. For bad news, more than 100 million Americans are stuck with health-care debt and, although drug overdose deaths in the United States have slowed in recent months after reaching record levels earlier in 2022, drug overdose deaths are more than 50 percent higher than they were five years earlier.
9. The stock market and retirement. Americans who invested 60 percent of their retirement funds in stocks and 40 percent in bonds, a typical retirement planning strategy, lost 15 percent this year. A major reason retirement accounts slumped this year is because returns on both stocks and bonds are down.
10. Climate change. In the United States, there were more intense forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, and wind events in 2022. One estimate is that a third of Americans are moving annually due to climate change. As a result of natural disasters, homeowner insurance premiums are projected to increase 5.3 percent per year. Premiums already rose 12.1 percent across the United States from 2021 to 2022, with higher rates in states where natural disasters occur more frequently, such as Arkansas, Washington, and Colorado. While the Inflation Reduction Act provides $370 billion in energy and climate-related spending, making it the largest investment toward fighting climate change in U.S. history, it’s just a small investment for a giant problem. The act includes grants, tax credits, support for renewable energy, clean vehicles, emission reduction in manufacturing and natural gas, energy-related research, greener agricultural and forestry practices, updates to energy codes, and investment in energy-efficient and electric homes.
Best wishes for 2023 and I hope that even with a divided Congress some progress can be made for consumers.
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