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(AP) (AP)


By Hope Karnopp February 21, 2024

Is Wisconsin lawmaker correct that households are spending $11,400 more per year because of Biden?

If Your Time is short

  • The number U.S. Rep. Brian Steil, R-Wis., is using comes from a November 2023 analysis performed by Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee. 

  • An economics expert said their calculations look right, though they didn’t explain how many people they count in a household and could have used a different metric.

  • Blaming inflation only on Biden doesn’t take into account the full economic picture, and the administration says disposable income is up.

Inflation is emerging as one of Republicans’ top lines of attack against Democratic President Joe Biden, who is running for a second term. 

Consumer inflation has been cooling down since a 9.1% peak in mid-2022. In January, prices were up 3.1% compared with a year ago, still above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

But even as the economy has improved, Republicans are tapping into lingering unease among voters. That includes U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, who represents southeastern Wisconsin. 

"Bidenomics is costing the typical American household over $11,400 more a year to buy the basics," Steil posted Feb. 1 on X.

Steil has made similar claims when Biden has visited Wisconsin to tout his economic agenda. Republicans in the state are likely to keep citing inflation when Biden makes future stops this year.

That’s why we wanted to dig into the number now. Are households really spending $11,400 more each year to buy basic goods?

And, is it solely because of Biden and his policies?

Let’s examine the data. 

Estimate comes from report prepared by Joint Economic Committee Republicans

When PolitiFact Wisconsin asked Steil’s office for backup, Communications Director Chavonne Ludick referred to an inflation tracker created by Republicans on Congress’ Joint Economic Committee.

The committee is bipartisan and chaired by a Democrat, but the report was released by Republicans (Steil is not a member). The report was initially released in November 2022, but the tracker has been updated.

In November 2023, the analysis showed typical American households must spend an extra $11,434 each year to have the same standard of living as in January 2021, according to articles from CBS and The Hill

The state-by-state map also shows data from November 2023, so we can assume Steil is using the committee’s most recent numbers. In Wisconsin, the tracker shows the latest annual amount was $10,065 per year, or $839 extra per month — near the middle of the pack. 

On its face, the report backs up Steil’s number — American households were recently spending $11,400 more a year to buy the basics.

Republicans don’t detail how many people are in a household, per person number is less

How did the committee’s Republicans get to their $11,400 number? They used January 2021 as a base month, which was "the last time inflation was within recent historical norms." They say their calculations consisted of three steps:

Menzie Chinn, a professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the GOP calculations seem to be right, except for one aspect: 

"They calculate numbers for ‘a household’ when it’s unclear how many people are in a household," Chinn said in an email.

Chinn previously analyzed the report for a Wisconsin Watch fact-check of an ad that said Wisconsinites are spending $10,000 more per year compared with 2021. But the number for individuals, he calculated, is $6,414.  Chinn added that although "not technically ‘wrong,’ the use of (consumer price index) tends to overstate the change in cost of living." 

Chained CPI, a metric that accounts for changes in consumer preferences more rapidly, would "likely be a little lower," he said.

So, the calculation is generally on target, albeit with an asterisk for a lack of clarity about what size the household is.

Biden administration pushed back on report, said disposable income is up

But there is another essential part of the claim— that of blame. Steil blames "Bidenomics" for the higher prices of household essentials. 

PolitiFact National has tackled whether Biden is responsible for inflation before and has noted it’s not nearly so clear cut.  Increases in the prices of gasoline, for example, are largely something that presidents can’t control. And economists have said inflation goes back to issues rooted in the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as supply-chain constraints and workforce shortages.

Still, some legislation such as the American Rescue Plan — advanced under Biden — might have added to pressures that pushed up prices. The relief plan put more money in Americans’ hands, but not enough goods could be produced, kicking up prices.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has pointed to other metrics that show a fuller picture of the economy. 

In comments to CBS, the Biden administration called the Joint Economic Committee Republicans’ analysis "flawed," but did not explain which parts. 

The administration cited federal data that showed disposable income had risen 16% since Biden took office. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis does show disposable income is increasing. A Washington Post analysis of economic data notes, however, that an end in pandemic stimulus money and rising prices have caused swings in household income. 

Chinn added that Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee performed an analysis that found "national average wages and salaries grew by nearly $15,000 between January 2021 and October 2023."

Democrats said that amount "outpaces price growth during that period by over $3,500" — which reads as an implicit agreement that Republicans’ $11,400 number is correct.

So, we’re left with an essentially accurate number, but a very mixed picture on blame.

Our ruling

Steil said "Bidenomics is costing the typical American household over $11,400 more a year to buy the basics."

That number comes from a report released by Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee. 

An economics professor said the Republicans’ calculations look good, although they didn’t explain how many people they were counting in a household and could have used a slightly different metric.

But, Steil blames inflation solely on "Bidenomics." Just as the president can’t claim credit for every positive aspect of the economy, which is shaped by a myriad of factors, it’s not fair to ascribe all of the blame.

Although the numbers look fairly accurate, Steil misfires on the blame element. Our definition of Half True is "the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

That fits here.


Our Sources

USA TODAY, Inflation dipped in January, CPI report shows. But not as much as hoped., Feb. 13, 2024.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin's economy seems to be faring well, but not everyone sees it that way. Why some experts say 'the vibes have felt off', Jan. 24, 2024.

X, Rep. Bryan Steil, Feb. 1, 2024.

Email exchange, Chavonne Ludcik, communications director for Rep. Bryan Steil, Feb. 13, 2024.

JEC Republicans, State Inflation Tracker.

JEC Republicans, State Inflation Tracker November 2022, Dec. 13, 2022.

CBS MoneyWatch, Americans need an extra $11,400 today just to afford the basics, Republican analysis finds, Nov. 30, 2023.

The Hill, You need up to $15,000 more just to live like you did in 2021, analysis finds, Nov. 30, 2023.

JEC Republicans, State Inflation Tracker: Methodology, April 12, 2022.

Email exchange, Menzie Chinn, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Feb. 15 and 19, 2024. 

PolitiFact, Gasoline prices are "up 63%" under President Joe Biden., Oct. 23, 2023. 

PolitiFact, #Bidenomics has led to mortgage rates hitting a 21-year high → over 7%., Aug. 23, 2023

St. Louis Fed, Real Disposable Personal Income, Dec. 2023.

The Washington Post, Biden’s economy vs. Trump’s, in 12 charts, Dec. 23, 2023.

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More by Hope Karnopp

Is Wisconsin lawmaker correct that households are spending $11,400 more per year because of Biden?

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