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Inflation pain is felt exponentially in large families


Families across the country have been feeling the effects of inflation. Steeper housing costs, bigger grocery bills, higher gas prices are forcing them to change habits, stretch budgets or go without. It has been especially challenging for parents.

Tamika Calhoun is a housing counselor in Jackson, Miss. She is also the mother of five children and joins us now from Jackson.

Thank you so much for being with us.

TAMIKA CALHOUN: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And I apologize in advance for the fact that, you know, these are very intimate questions about the family budget. What are groceries costing now? - anything you've had to do without?

CALHOUN: My last visit to the grocery store, I have to basically pick and choose what we need over what the kids would want. You know, kids are going to want snacks and things when they get out of school.

SIMON: Yeah.

CALHOUN: So we're down to trying to stretch the snacks or buying a big bag of chips instead of the individual bags because they're so expensive now. For one meal, I'm spending close to a hundred dollars because I have such a large family. And...

SIMON: Yeah.

CALHOUN: ...Before, it didn't seem like I was spending that much for one meal, but now - especially the parts of meat. And we have a big family, so we have to buy the bigger packs of meat.

SIMON: Does everything seem to cost more?

CALHOUN: It does. Gas - we don't go anywhere anymore because the gas is scarce because of how high it is right now.

SIMON: Are you afraid to not go to work if you're sick or simply exhausted because your family would have to do with even less?

CALHOUN: Very much so - it is - either I work, or we won't have anywhere to live - because we don't live anywhere where we have subsidy, like if - before, if I lost my job, I knew that we had the security of living in low-income housing. The rent would go to a lower amount. But now we don't live there. I feel like I finally got in a position where we can move and start moving forward and carry ourselves without government assistance. And now with everything happening, it's like, did I pick the wrong time to do this? I wasn't expecting this to happen. And I caught myself kind of planning for it. But my savings is depleted because I ended up having to miss work because of COVID.

SIMON: You've had COVID?

CALHOUN: The week of Christmas, me and all five of my kids all had COVID.

SIMON: Are there government programs that can help you?

CALHOUN: No, because I make too much money, even though it's not enough to cover anything. But they're...

SIMON: Yeah.

CALHOUN: ...The government standards are still the same. Like, you still can't make over this amount, even though the price...

SIMON: Yeah.

CALHOUN: ...Of everything has gone up.

SIMON: You make barely enough for you and your family to survive. But you make too much to qualify for government assistance.

CALHOUN: Yep, exactly. If it had not been for the pandemic EBT, we probably would be struggling way more than what we are. Like, we've been stretching that.

SIMON: This is the government program that gives food aid that ordinarily would be distributed in schools directly to families.

CALHOUN: And they gave, I think, two deposits, and they gave each child their own card. So that's what's really been helping us out with buying groceries.

SIMON: What do you foresee in the weeks ahead? What causes you concern?

CALHOUN: I try to be hopeful. But if I were to talk realistically, I'm hoping I don't catch COVID again or none of my kids catch COVID again. It's scary that I have to send them to school, and then they may end up getting sick. And then I don't have child care, so I would have to miss work to be there with them. Or I may even have to quarantine with them. And if that happens, I don't have any PTO time left.

SIMON: Yeah.

CALHOUN: So that means I don't have any income.

SIMON: Tamika, I mean, you have five children, and you would do anything for them. But, of course, you need to stay healthy and nourished to be able to help them. Are you ever hungry?

CALHOUN: It's been times where I've sacrificed so that they can eat. And, like, I try not to let them know that I did it...

SIMON: Yeah.

CALHOUN: ...'Cause I know that they're going to try to give me their food. But they've never just gone hungry because I find a way.

SIMON: Yeah. You sacrifice yourself for your children. I just wish you all the luck in the world.

CALHOUN: Thank you. I'm hopeful that - I feel like things will turn around. Like, I'm - even though the world isn't turning around, I'm working on trying to - 'cause, like I said, wages stay the same even though prices go up. If that means that I have to find another job that pays higher or get a degree in something where I can get a job that pay higher, I'm just going to do what I can and hope for the best.

SIMON: Tamika Calhoun of Jackson, Miss. - thanks so much for speaking with us.

CALHOUN: Thank you for having me.


Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.