Uncommon Ground

Count the Beans

Inflation feels big and Montanans are paying plenty more for essentials

By Mike Jopek

A lawnmower I’ve eyed for the farm is closer to locally being in stock. Availability is two weeks out, they say. Soon the grass will stop growing, turn paler, making it feel like a next year decision.

Inflation feels big and Montanans are paying plenty more for essentials like rent, homes, automobiles, and lawnmowers. That’s if you can find some.

Recently the bean counters in D.C. seemed shocked to report something which locals have felt for months, that pandemic-times living is more expensive.

The local guy at the emptier-than-usual rental store informed me, as I flippantly commented about the price of propane, that the increase had been steady over multiple months with a little relief recently. 

A drive-by at any of the valley’s automobile lots notes an absence of rigs as manufacturers are reportedly in dire shortage of critical chips. 

Similar shortages held true in the timber industry, before the 1,300 mills across the country ramped up production to help meet some of demand for a roaring nation on the move as Americans migrate to better places to live, work, and raise families.

The bean counters say that future lumber prices began to decrease, from what looked like a multiple-fold increase when the pandemic began, to lessen some of the economic terror it cast upon our building industry. 

A trip to any hardware tells the current story. At the big box store, a stick of 2-by-4 framing lumber is over $8 while a sheet of half-inch CDX plywood still commands nearly $80. That might not mean much, but in my day, decades ago, it was $1 and $8 respectively. 

These draconian prices have led to many funny posts on the valley’s online marketplaces where jokesters put of scraps of wood for sale at exorbitant prices, 40-year-old rust bucket trucks for tens of thousands of dollars, and even a grand for low numbered entry ticket to the local Department of Motor Vehicle to registerer the auto.

A couple years back, bean counters asserted that the tariff taxes, which America mandated on imported raw products, would increase prices. Softwood tariff taxes still exist for imported lumber and lawnmower makers like Husqvarna reportedly even quit manufacturing gas mowers for America because of costs.

Many working people are earning more money, helping locals survive in the roaring days of the pandemic. Not many talk about the worldwide sickness that still rages across the world in significantly less vaccinated areas of the planet. Feels like the only people that still prioritize public safety are those working in healthcare.

It’s disheartening that bean counters at the Kalispell hospital haven’t yet agreed to pay nurses more for an honest day’s work in a dangerous workplace, during a pandemic. It’s a tight labor market across the nation, especially in places like the Flathead. Pay nurses a fair wage and treat workers with dignity.

Valley wide, workers again enjoy the upper hand as labor shortages forced wages to increase, helping families pay the ever-increasing bills that keep arriving in the mail.

With the Montana Legislature repealing self-rule housing policies for places like Whitefish and offering no financial help to fund worker housing projects, the new realistic minimum wage in valley might soon be $20 hourly. That’s sure to drive the price of a burger past $15.

Big business won’t like it. The bean counters will soon enough allow guest workers back into selective industries throughout America and help drive down local wages. 

In desirable places to live with fast internet, like the Flathead, it’s a home seller’s market, which makes fair wages very important for workers paying exorbitant rent. Right on cue, as if inflation wasn’t enough, Montana informed growth-area homeowners that property taxes might again increase significantly due to the state’s unmitigated reappraisal.