The California Cost Of Thanksgiving


All Californians traveling this Thanksgiving by automobile will be paying steep prices for gasoline. Those who have a little cash left over after filling up can indulge in a meager (compared to last year) turkey day meal.

As of Nov. 22, California had the highest gasoline prices in the country. Regular had hit $4.71 a gallon, an all-time high; mid-grade was $4.89, and hi-test $5.02 a gallon. At $4.83, the state also had the highest-priced diesel in the U.S. With 7.1 million Californians expected to travel at least 50 miles this Thanksgiving, an increase of 16% over last year, the wallet drain is going to be enormous.

But “​​it’s not just the gas,” a woman who had canceled a planned trip to San Francisco told the Los Angeles Times last week. “It’s everything.”

“We saw all the prices increasing – it’s crazy,” she said. “Even the carne asada at the market is $25 to $36, so we were like, ‘OK we have to change our plans to make (Thanksgiving) affordable.’”

The American Farm Bureau said one week before the holiday the “classic Thanksgiving feast for 10 is $53.31” this year, a “14% increase from last year’s average of $46.90.” The cost of “the centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables,” the turkey, is up 24%.

Anyone who’s been shopping to cook a Thanksgiving dinner spread has already noticed the rising prices. “A whole turkey is going to cost you nearly double what it did a couple of years ago,” says the Sacramento Bee.

For many Californians, the increase in this year’s turkey prices is likely to exceed the national average. Inflation has eaten deeply into consumers’ buying power. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index in the Los Angeles area is up 5.4% over a year ago (food at home, meaning groceries, rose 5.5%, while food outside the home is up 5.9%). In the San Francisco region, the jump is 3.8% (groceries up 7.1%, restaurants 4.1%). The San Diego area CPI is 6.5% higher (food at home advanced 5.7%, food away from home 10.1%), while the Riverside region has been hit with a 6.8% rise in prices (food at home up 4.3%, restaurants 4.1%).

The overall national average is 6.2%, with groceries up 5.4% and restaurants 5.3%.

Even before the inflation spike, California’s cost of living was hurting consumers. The state has consistently ranked as one of the most expensive to live in for more than a decade. Only once since 2007 has California not been among the five states with the highest costs of living.

Yes, wages are high in California relative to the rest of the country. But the cost of living in the state is growing faster than “what is otherwise robust income growth.” This isn’t by coincidence nor is just a streak of rotten luck. It’s a product of public policy. And it’s driving people out of the state. Which means many celebrating Thanksgiving in California this year will observe the holiday in some other state in 2022, where they’ll not only have a bigger meal, but a larger home that costs much less than the one they left, as well as a much more affordable full tank of gas.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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