Vietnamese-Americans grappling with soaring inflation

By Dang Khoa, Xanh LeMay 17, 2022 | 03:56 am PT
The skyrocketing prices of gasoline, food and other necessities are squeezing many Vietnamese-American households and leaving a big dent in their wallets.

Truong Ngoc Thu Thuy of California used to buy whatever she wanted without giving much thought to prices.

She was "shocked" to see a bottle of fish sauce cost US$9 now instead of $3 and the prices of everything rise "uncontrollably."

She has been forced to become frugal with her spending and now only buys things that are truly necessary items and on sales on e-commerce sites, and she uses coupons at the supermarket to reduce food costs.

To make their money stretch as much as possible, Thuy and many others in the Vietnamese diaspora are changing their spending habits and lifestyles to one of moderation to cope with the soaring inflation.

People shop in a grocery store in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 28, 2022. Photo by Reuters

People shop in a grocery store in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., March 28, 2022. Photo by Reuters

The consumer price index rose by 0.3 percent in April, down from 1.2 percent in March and the first decline since August 2021, but it is too early to tell if inflation has peaked yet.

The food index increased by 9.4 percent in the last year, the highest 12-month increase since April 1981.

The inflation rate in April was 8.3 percent, down from a 40-year high of 8.5 percent in March but still at a level not seen since the 1980s.

On May 4, the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates for a second time in two months, raising its benchmark rate by 0.5 percentage points, the biggest hike in 22 years, to combat inflation.

As prices soar, even middle-class consumers like Thuy are feeling the pinch and have begun to cut back on travel and vacations.

Her family used to make a few road trips every year before the pandemic, but that has changed now since gas prices are at an all-time high.

The average price of a gallon of gas rose to $4.4 on Thursday, the highest since the American Automobile Association started keeping track of prices in 2000.

"We don’t intend to hit the road anytime soon," Thuy says, pointing out that it used to cost $40 to fill her tank but now costs $70-80.

It is having a knock-on effect on all prices as transport costs surge.

David Hung, the owner of an Asian grocery store in California that sells products imported from Vietnam, says he has raised prices as little as possible to maintain profits in the face of rising costs.

"I know some people might be disappointed ... but there is nothing else I can do."

Current gas prices are shown as they continue to rise in Carlsbad, California, U.S., March 7, 2022. Photo by Reuters

Current gas prices are shown as they continue to rise in Carlsbad, California, U.S., March 7, 2022. Photo by Reuters

The rising cost of living is making things even harder for low-income families.

In Virginia, the "terrifying inflation" has forced Jessica Le to cancel her family’s proposed trip to Vietnam this summer because her "top priority now is saving."

"The price rise has forced me to live from paycheck to paycheck," the 43-year-old nail salon owner, who earns around $4,000 a month, says.

A poll done by Forbes in February found that seven out of 10 Americans live similarly.

Le says business has been dull in the past few months since people are busy dealing with inflation and "watching their pennies closely."

"Customers are more focused on core expenses like food, gas and shelter instead of taking care of their nails.

"All I can do now is cross my fingers and hope for the best."

According to another poll, this one done by CNBC early last month, there is rising concern about inflation and the risk of recession among U.S. consumers.

"The survey finds Americans with incomes of at least $100,000 saying they've cut back on spending, or may soon do so, in numbers that are not far off the decisions being made by lower-income groups," it said.

President Biden recently said fighting inflation is his "top domestic priority."

"My plan attacks inflation and grows the economy by lowering costs for working families, giving workers well-deserved raises, reducing the deficit by historic levels and making big corporations and the very wealthiest Americans pay their fair share."

Thuy has canceled her Amazon Prime subscription and switched to a cheaper family phone plan.

She cooks at home for her kids and husband to carry to school and office.

"My family has also cut back on restaurant visits. We haven’t exceeded our grocery budget yet, but we are getting closer and closer."

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