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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.

Grocery bills continue climbing for Tampa Bay area shoppers

Egg case inside a Publix
Gabriella Paul
WUSF Public Media
Consumers spent nearly 9 percent more on groceries in the Tampa metro area in January compared to a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The cost of meat, eggs and cereal are among the biggest drivers of rising grocery prices in recent months, according to the Consumer Price Index.

Tampa residents are likely facing continuing sticker shock at the grocery store.

Consumers spent nearly 9 percent more on groceries in the Tampa metro area in January compared to a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since November, the food index has climbed 1.4 percent alone, with meat, eggs and cereal experiencing the largest jump in prices.

University of South Florida transportation and supply chain expert Seckin Ozkul said there are several factors that play into the prices consumers are seeing at the grocery store.

Aside from industry-specific issues — like the Avian flu spiking the price of eggs nationally — the cost of transportation is a major factor for calculating food costs in Florida.

“In all these chunks of increases of prices, we’re definitely seeing the cost of transport increase felt — it’s always passed on to the customer. The company...is not going to eat that, especially for something that’s not in their control,” Ozkul said.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Fluctuation in price for poultry and eggs nationally between 2003 and 2023.

Because Florida is a consumer state that typically serves as the final destination in a distribution route, Ozkul said the trucks and rail cars bringing goods across state lines often leave without any cargo in return.

“And that means that we are getting charged a little bit more for the cost of transportation than places that can have a two-way traffic,” he said.

This also indicates that inflated grocery costs could be stickier in the Tampa metro area, even as prices curb nationally.

Nonetheless, Ozkul expects good news for supply chains in 2023. He said that food costs are expected to stabilize along with inflation, though that doesn't necessarily mean prices will return to pre-pandemic levels.

St. Pete Free Clinic CEO Jennifer Yeagley said she has seen a steady increase in need for food assistance that’s coincided with climbing grocery costs and cost-of-living increases over the past year.

“As we know, in the Tampa Bay region, the Consumer Price Index for groceries and utilities is much higher than it was a year ago and trending ahead of national inflation rates. Additionally, rent is over 15% higher in our area than it was in January 2023, which continues to stretch people’s earnings beyond what their budgets can accommodate,” Yeagley wrote in an emailed response.

The clinic’s We Help FRESH Pantry, which has three locations across St. Petersburg, has been consistently serving around 30,000 individuals per month, according to Yeagley.

That’s roughly five-fold the average number of monthly customers the fresh pantry served before the pandemic and around 10,000 more regular customers than six months ago.

To meet the growing need, Yeagley said the clinic continues to expand its capacity to serve the community. Lately, that has looked like expanding financial support and donations to offset the rising cost of food.

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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