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Inflation is falling, but these Biden voters in Michigan say ‘it does not feel like it’s gotten better’

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(GRAND RAPIDS, MI.) — On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden is touting a post-COVID-19 economy that has roared back to life and continued to shatter expectations in recent months.

Worries of a recession are fading, unemployment remains very low and average wages are on the rise again after years of being overtaken by high inflation, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But in the grocery aisles in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Teresa Johnson, a single mother, struggles to make ends meet for her and her 11-year-old daughter despite the cooling prices.

She told ABC News that she is still recovering from the financial hardships of the pandemic and has yet to see the benefits of the recent economic upturn.

“I’m living paycheck to paycheck because it’s so hard really to save,” Johnson said in an interview with ABC News Contributing Political Correspondent Rachael Bade.

“I won’t be able to retire, especially with a child that I have here at home. I don’t see it coming. I’m going to have to work until about 70 or 72,” Johnson said.

As voters look ahead to the 2024 presidential election, Johnson is among the 74% of Americans who said the economy was very important to them, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll from November.

A January ABC/Ipsos survey also found that Americans were broadly unhappy about the state of the economy, including the high prices and the high interest rates intended to fight inflation — and they mostly disapproved of Biden’s handling of the issue, despite his messaging and factors like high employment.

People like Johnson, in the key battleground of Michigan, offer a personal glimpse into those views, which could influence the next election.

A registered Democrat, Johnson told ABC News that while she voted for Biden in 2020, she is looking at other presidential candidates this year. “Right now, I’m kind of disappointed,” she said.

“As far as the economy, I’m upset as a working adult, mother and grandmother,” she said. “I don’t feel that there’s been enough changes as of now.”

Though Johnson described herself as “on the other side,” she said she likes former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a long shot challenger to Trump in the Republican primary.

For years, Johnson has been on a fixed disability income — but due to rising costs seen since inflation jumped in 2021 and 2022, the 66-year-old former state employee has had to take a part-time job in a school cafeteria.

The climb in food and gas prices pushed her already-tight budget to the brink and the financial pinch has meant making some tough choices: prioritizing food sales over food quality and choosing cheaper cuts of meat for dinner.

“I love Honeycrisp, but $8 to $9 for a bag of apples? That’s not good. That is really high. I can’t afford that,” Johnson told Bade, adding that it’s been a couple of months since she’s been able to have a large Sunday family dinner.

“It’s not feasible anymore because of the price of food,” Johnson said.

While inflation has fallen dramatically from its high in 2022, it remains nearly a percentage point above the Fed Reserve’s target of 2%.

Consumer prices rose by 3.1% in January compared to a year ago, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is less than the 3.4% year-over-year figure in December and well below the 9.1% annual spike seen in mid-2022.

By comparison, labor data shows that average hourly earnings grew by 4.5% from January 2023 to January 2024.

The Biden campaign and its surrogates have aggressively tried to move public opinion on the economy, touring key battleground states to advertise his record, including spending to boost domestic manufacturing and infrastructure as well as the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, $740 billion legislation that invests in clean energy and aims to lower health costs and provide tax credit incentives.

“Thanks to the American people, America now has the strongest growth, the lowest inflation rate of any major economy in the world,” Biden said at an event in January.

“Things are finally beginning to sink in,” he said then. “We passed a lot of really good legislation. We knew it was going to take time for it to begin to take hold, but it’s taken hold now in turning the economy around.”

Despite continued economic growth, the president’s politically branded “Bidenomics” pitch has largely fallen flat on the campaign trail, according to the polls.

Rising prices, even if they are rising more slowly than in 2021 and 2022, still seem to weigh on the minds of voters. (Officials like Fed Chair Jerome Powell have said that to truly decrease prices would mean having a broad recession — which creates other problems.)

A late-January NBC News poll showed that just 33% of registered voters said Biden would do a better job than rival Donald Trump handling the economy, while 55% of respondents said Trump would be better than Biden.

Small business owner Arick Davis, owner of the Last Mile Cafe in Grand Rapids, said he’s still reeling from the impact of inflation.

With many of his customers pinching pennies and shopping less, the financial toll has affected his bottom line, he said. He’s had to dip into his savings to keep his business afloat.

“There’s definitely been a lot of sacrifices in this period to turn this into the place that we want it to be,” Davis told ABC News.

Like Johnson, he said that he isn’t experiencing the lower rates of inflation that are making headlines.

“If inflation is going down, that’s great, but I have not seen any of my bills get cheaper. It does not feel like it’s gotten better. It does not feel like access to capital has improved,” he said, adding that he wants to see more solutions for helping small businesses and reducing overall spending.

Davis voted for Biden in 2020 and said he plans to do so again in the 2024 election. And while he cannot see himself voting for Trump, he wishes there were other viable candidates to choose from.

“I do not think Joe Biden should be the nominee for the Democrats,” Davis said. “There was a time where [Biden] presented himself as the best candidate, but I think that there are a plethora of people out there who probably would do a better job at the job.”

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