“‘The dirty little secret here … while nobody likes to pay more, on average, we have the money to do so.’”
That was NBC business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle, who has been under fire for comments she made about how Americans are coping with rising inflation earlier this week.
“The dirty little secret here … while nobody likes to pay more, on average, we have the money to do so,” Ruhle said in a segment with “Sunday Today” anchor Willie Geist over the weekend. “Household savings hit a record high over the pandemic. … For those who own their homes, the value of our homes are up. And while the stock market isn’t the economy, you’ve got over half of American households with some investment in the markets, and the markets
have hit record highs.”
On Tuesday, Ruhle did, however, acknowledge that some Americans may be feeling financial pain. In an interview on MSNBC with National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay about the October uptick in retail sales, Ruhle talked about “a tale of two economic Americas” — in particular, an “America that is in a dire economic situation.” She also said: “There aren’t different prices for different people and everybody’s got to buy shoes for their kids and milk at the store.”
She also tweeted out a thread on Tuesday that acknowledged the many Americans who are struggling.
But Ruhle’s earlier “dirty little secret” comments still drew backlash from critics arguing that Ruhle, who spent a decade and a half on Wall Street before veering into broadcast journalism, is out of touch with the realities many Americans are facing.
As Ruhle noted, by some measures, Americans are better off than they have previously been. The expanded child tax credit is sending some families with children hundreds of dollars a month, she points out. Also, the personal savings rate, which measures the ratio of personal savings to disposable personal income, soared to 21% in the first quarter of 2021. And there’s been considerable wage growth, with hourly wages increasing by 4.6% over the past year, compared with a 2.5% to 3% pace before the pandemic.
But with inflation at its highest level in over a decade, it may still be a challenging environment for Americans, economists warn. “Large and unexpected surprise inflation, however, can reduce real wages,” Harvard University professor Jason Furman, a White House economist during the Obama administration, wrote in a post published by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
It’s also worth noting that personal savings rates have fallen from their first-quarter mark. In September, the rate was down to 7.5%.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that Ruhle’s remark has generated such strong, and negative, reactions — from politicians, political commentators and everyday Americans. Her name was trending on Google on Monday morning.
Esther Joy King, an entrepreneur who is running as a Republican for an Illinois congressional seat, said on Twitter that well-paid television commentators like Ruhle can easily afford to counter inflation. “But millions of Americans already under tight budgets are getting slammed,” King said.
Fox News contributor Joe Concha weighed in, saying, “I love it when the richest 1% like Stephanie Ruhle say, ‘You can afford it. It’s OK because I can.’ No, it’s not how it works.”
Andrew Wilkow, a conservative political talk-show host, was also among those who sharply criticized Ruhle. “Inflation is killing wage gains and eating up savings,” he said.
Ruhle did tweet this last week:
Some have taken a similar view as Ruhle when it comes to how inflation will affect Americans. In a financial forecast for next year, Aneta Markowska and Thomas Simons, economists with Jefferies, wrote: “Will inflation stifle growth, and prove self-defeating? In short, no. Low- and middle-income households, i.e. those most exposed to rising prices, have the capacity to absorb them, both due to ample savings and rapid wage growth.”