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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Consumer confidence lags in the Tampa area, despite a boost in attitudes around the country

Shoppers with carts stand in a grocery store aisle, surrounded by products on both sides.
Nam Y. Huh
Customers shop at a grocery store in Mount Prospect, Ill., Friday, April 1, 2022. A USF survey found that 77 percent percent of respondents said inflation has affected their grocery spending.

Experts are crediting cooling inflation and the anticipation of federal interest rate cuts for the boost in consumer attitudes.

Nationally, consumers are feeling better about the economy.

In light of cooling inflation and the anticipation of federal interest rate cuts, recent data shows consumers are starting to feel optimistic about the economy.

But in Tampa, where inflation has remained stubbornly high, the future is less bright than the national picture.

One measure, known as the Consumer Confidence Index, found attitudes nationally rose to 114.8, up six points from December. Index results predict how likely consumers are to spend and save money in the future based on their current feelings about the economy.

January’s positive reading marks the third straight month that consumer attitudes improved, according to the Conference Board report.

Consumer confidence is a strong predictor of future spending and economic growth, said Michael Snipes, an economics instructor at the University of South Florida.

“If we can combine historic precedents with the kind of good feelings that we have now – both of these taken together is pretty strong evidence that tomorrow is looking fairly bright,” he said. "Exactly how bright it’s going to be? We’re not going to know until we get there.”

While the national inflation rate over the past 12 months was 3.4 percent, in the Tampa area it was nearly two points higher at 5.2 percent, according to the latest Consumer Price Index data.

“While it might be a good thing that consumer confidence is on the rise, we still have higher than normal inflation,” he said. “And even here in Tampa Bay, we’ve led the nation in inflation for the past three years.”

While prices are cooling in Tampa, Snipes said they aren’t cooling as fast as they are nationally.

With the city’s recent population growth and tourism-based economy – both factors that drive spending – Snipes said it’s unlikely that inflation in Tampa will dip to the national average anytime soon.

"When we have outside money coming in, and spending coming in from presumably out of state, that's going to put upward pressure on prices, but then those people can leave" Snipes said. "But we're still stuck with the higher prices."

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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