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Even With Surging Inflation, Here's Why 2021 Won't Be Your Most Expensive Thanksgiving Meal Ever

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Inflation is effecting consumers across the country. And as Americans prepare to gather for Thanksgiving this year, it will cost most more than it did last year.

This week, the Commerce Department showed inflation rose at its fastest pace since January 1991. Even with inflation climbing the most in 30 years, agricultural economists say your Thanksgiving meal still won’t be the most expensive ever.

Purdue University agricultural economist Jayson Lusk has dug into the numbers and done the math. Lusk says when you factor in worker earnings and median weekly salaries, the average American in 1980 would have had to work about 175 minutes, or almost 3 hours, to earn enough money to buy a 20 lb. turkey. In 2019, which is the last time the Bureau of Labor Statistics released retail turkey prices, the average American worker only had to work about 80 minutes, or 1 hour 15 minutes, to buy a 20 lb. turkey. Why? He says efficiency in turkey production has brought the price down.

“Steak is indeed expensive today relative to the past,” Lusk says. “The most recent data suggests a worker making the median wage would have to work about 102 minutes to earn enough to buy 4 lb. of beef sirloin steak at retail. Nonetheless, steak has been more expensive in the recent past. The time price of sirloin steak was higher in 2004 (104 minutes) and 2014 (103 minutes) than it is today in 2021.”

He says while the overall trend shows proteins and other food items are at record highs, the price of things like potato and bread were higher in 2008 and 2012. But when you compare retail food prices this year to last year, Thanksgiving will be more expensive. Michigan State University agricultural economist Trey Malone agrees.

“I think that the sticker shock is going to come from the comparison of what you spent at like Thanksgiving last year, versus what you're going to spend for Thanksgiving this year. That doesn't necessarily mean it's the most expensive Thanksgiving ever. But what it does mean is that at the end of the day, you're going to notice how much money you're spending at your Thanksgiving meal,” Malone says.

American Farm Bureau’s (AFBF) 36th annual Thanksgiving meal survey shows overall, the average American will be paying 14% more this year for their Thanksgiving dinner. AFBF says the centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – costs more than last year, at $23.99 for a 16-pound bird. That’s roughly $1.50 per pound, up 24% from last year.

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