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Inflation is affecting the fishing business in Brownsville, Texas


You probably know inflation is accelerating. Prices rose an average 8.5% in March compared to a year earlier, more than in February, January and so on. We'll get to high - how higher fuel, transportation and food costs are affecting the country as a whole. But first, let's begin with a close-up view in Brownsville, Texas. Texas Public Radio's Gaige Davila spoke to residents there about how they're managing.

GAIGE DAVILA, BYLINE: Here at the Port of Brownsville, it's fairly quiet, except for the shorebirds. Most shrimp boats are stuck in port.

CHARLES BURNELL: My next-door neighbor across here is tied up. I'm the only fool working (laughter).

DAVILA: Charles Burnell and his son Kyle run the Shrimp Outlet on Brownsville's coastal edge. Earlier this week, one of their boats returned with $100,000 worth of shrimp, a slightly above average catch. But Kyle explains, the money had been essentially spent by the time it got back to the dock.

KYLE BURNELL: Instead of spending $3,000 on groceries, they're spending 5 to $5,500 on groceries. And fuel, of course - the same thing as everywhere else. It's almost double to what it was before the boats went out.

DAVILA: Their lone operational boat was at sea 65 days as the price of diesel began to soar. They're now paying double for fuel than they were just a few months ago.

K BURNELL: It's just almost impossible to make a living on it right now as far as the, you know, owners go. The crew's making good money, but the ones maintaining the boat and keeping the boat going aren't making too much.

DAVILA: In Brownsville, it's more than just fuel costs hitting the 200,000 people who live here. At Nerve Coffee, barista Noe Barboza is feeling the pinch. When gas prices begin to rise, he started biking everywhere. Rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft just weren't a viable option.

NOE BARBOZA: When I would call for a Lyft to come to work, it would just be about $6. But recently it cost me about $15 to go from my house to here.

DAVILA: Barboza is attending his last semester of university in Brownsville. He lives at home with his mom and siblings. They used to go out to the movies and order takeout food, but not anymore.

BARBOZA: Back in the day, I used to be able to have, like, a larger budget and stretch it out a little bit further. But now rice and eggs, even a couple of vegetables, can come up to $70, and that's choosing, like, a more organic approach towards it as well.

DAVILA: Groceries are trucked in daily to Brownsville from across the Mexican border and to the north. At South Texas Oriental Market, manager Rachel Grenn says they get their shipments from Houston.

RACHEL GRENN: The product itself is higher back in Houston where we get those items. And because we have our own cargo, we bring the stuff here. And the price was increase almost every week.

DAVILA: Grenn says they're having to pay more for just about everything, including the store's most basic items.

GRENN: It's unbelievable, you know, even just for a soy sauce, you know? Usually it's very cheap. It's only $3 a bottle. Right now - $4.75.

DAVILA: H-E-B is the largest grocery chain in Texas. Thousands of people shop at the store on Boca Chica Road every day, including Alfredo Gongora.

ALFREDO GONGORA: Light bill's going up, but definitely the food. I see that especially - definitely in the food.

DAVILA: Gongora was leaving with a bag of chicharrones, or dried pork skins. They used to cost a dollar, but now it's twice that. He had a case of beer, too, which also was more expensive.

GONGORA: Beer has gone up. Why you're taxing beer, I don't understand. That's the most important thing in a man's world - belly, beer (laughter)

DAVILA: Gongora is a former shipbuilder at the port. He's been unemployed since the beginning of the pandemic. He starts a new job Monday in time to help with the rising utility and grocery costs.

For NPR News, I'm Gaige Davila in Brownsville, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Gaige Davila | TPR