TEXAS VIEW: Abilene business folks talk, Arrington listens to their concerns

THE POINT: People want to be heard. They want someone to listen to their problems and acknowledge them. Even if the solution isn’t there yet.

Sometimes, you just need to vent your frustrations.

Perhaps a solution is not in sight, but just talking about your struggles with others who are experiencing the same challenges helps.

Last week, a group representing Abilene businesses spoke with U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington at the Abilene Chamber of Commerce.

They expressed their concerns about a 40-year high in inflation, the inability to get what they need and the difficulty in hiring.

For the most part, they survived the pandemic. Some perhaps even thrived, their business set up for success or their management able to pivot as health concerns escalated, abated, escalated, abated.

They worked through limiting factors.

Now, Arrington said, business owners still want to serve customers “safely and responsibly (but) without a lot of government intervention.”

They’re ready to move forward. Which is what America has done in the past when faced with a crisis. At the risk of lighting political fuses, we want to make America great again. We want to build back better.

But the nation is suffering, he said, from “self-inflicted wounds from federal policies that are making things difficult to untenable.”

Supply shortages

Locally, store shelves often are empty of particular items. One day a certain soft drink, the next day dog food.

Something that cost less than $4 now is $4.50. Fifty cents isn’t the issue. It’s the percentage of sudden increases and how many items are jumping in price. Milk inside the grocery story, gas outside at the pumps.

Arrington noted the American working family’s monthly spending power has taken a $300 hit. For those on a budget, that’s taking one in the gut.

In other countries, when cost of food and fuel becomes unaffordable, people take to the streets, he said. Is that a reality here?

Consumers are paying higher costs now, but those at the table last Tuesday said they fear that won’t last.

Those saving for a new vehicle are in a quandary. They may have to divert savings to prop up current spending, or they can’t save enough to keep up with rising costs for vehicles.

Spending unlimited

Arrington predictably addressed government spending and the now $30 trillion debt.

“You,” he said, addressing those in the room, “can’t borrow like your country.”

Heads nodded.

The nation’s rising debt dilemma, he said, is today’s equivalent of The Great Depression and World Wars for past generations.

“Both parties have contributed to it,” he said, calling continued borrowing “reckless.” It will haunt future generations.

Expect interest rates to rise to combat inflation, he said. That, he warned, will chill consumer demand and hurt businesses.

Worker shortages

There was talk about people not working, with too many relying on money from the government that exceeded what they were earning.

That, too, brought to mind how America once reacted to financial crisis and war. People were eager to work and up for the task. Jobs were created.

Today, it seems to be the opposite scenario, those in the room mused. There are jobs but fewer Americans are eager to work.

The labor shortage was Issue No. 1 discussed last Tuesday, Arrington said afterward.

“I think that was the one that was emphasized the most,” Arrington said. “They can’t get enough people to service their customers.”

Arrington said “social services” were needed during an unprecedented pandemic, when uncertainty reigned. Continue that and people rely on those instead of themselves, he said.

“We’ve got to require people go back to work if you’re able to work,” he said. The government needs to incentivize people to work, he said.

Arrington said 20 years of wage gains have been wiped, leaving Americans more closely watching every dollar.

“Runaway inflation … hurts small business, but it really hurts consumers,” he said,

Was there panic in the room?

Texas has handled the tough times better than other areas of the country.

We still have that “open for business” mentality. We can take a punch and come back swinging. We also have, we believe, more common sense and values.

But we also like our made-to-order coffee, big vehicles and eating out.

Have we, too, been living too large? To protect our good living, do we attack programs intended to help those who are struggling?

That’s a fair question.

Arrington admitted he didn’t bring the solution to Abilene. And it seemed those sharing their thoughts with him last week didn’t expect him to be Harry Potter-ly heroic, pointing a wand at our problems and shouting “FixAmericus!”

Maybe we can tighten our belts for now. But at some point, we’ll run out of notches.

“There is certainly no solution,” Arrington said, “that won’t have some pain in the near future.”

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