(NewsNation) – When you think of the 1970s, you probably think of the Bee Gees, disco music, shag carpet, truly bizarre fashions and the last of the giant American cars.
What you might not think of is inflation.
For those of us who lived through the Disco Decade, however, the economic facts were headline news just about every day. Donna Summer may have been singing about “Hot Stuff” on the radio, but the hottest thing in the ’70s was how fast prices were going up, especially at the gas pump. Thanks to the infamous Arab Oil Embargo, drivers were only allowed to fill up every other day, prices went through the roof, and gas lines stretched for blocks.
Current consumer inflation, propelled by surging gas, food and housing costs, jumped 7.9% over the past year, the sharpest spike since 1982. It’s likely only a signal of even higher prices to come.
The increase reported Thursday by the Labor Department reflected the 12 months ending in February and didn’t include most of the oil and gas price increases that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Even before the war further accelerated price increases, robust consumer spending, solid pay raises and persistent supply shortages had sent U.S. consumer inflation to its highest level in four decades.
In the ’70s, though, the problem with the economy was a phenomenon called “stagflation,” which is when the economy slumps while unemployment rises, ensuring that nobody’s going anywhere all that fast.
The country was just coming out of the one-two punch of the disastrous end of the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon’s resignation, and it seemed for a while that not only had America lost its identity, a lot of people didn’t want it found. President Jimmy Carter gave a famous speech in July 1979 in which he called out the country’s “crisis of confidence” and referred to a “malaise” gripping the country.
Just as inflation hit its high point of 14.8% in 1980, the country elected a former actor and governor of California, Ronald Reagan, who brought a freewheeling “America rocks!” sort of sentiment to the oval office and presided over one of the biggest expansions of the economy in U.S. history.
The current situation, while certainly not an easy one, is not nearly as bad as the ’70s. The underlying economy is still strong, and unemployment is staying low. Yes, the prices for some things are skyrocketing, but we’re still better off than we were when “Staying Alive” was at the top of the charts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Suggest a Correction