Trump, Biden spar over inflation at presidential debate

Inflation soared to 9.1% in June of 2022 during President Biden's term

President Biden and former President Trump sparred during the CNN Presidential Debate on Thursday night over whose administration was to blame for the high inflation the U.S. economy is experiencing and when it started. 

"Well, let's take a look at what I was left when I became president and what Mr. Trump left me," Biden said in response to a question posed by moderator Jake Tapper that led off the debate. "We had an economy that was in free fall. A pandemic that was so badly handled, many people were dying."

"The economy collapsed. No jobs. Unemployment rate rose to 15%. It was terrible," Biden said. The president went on to add, "The combination of what I was left with and corporate greed is the reason why we're in this problem now."

Joe Biden presidential debate

President Biden delivers remarks during the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta. President Biden and Republican presidential candidate, former President Trump are facing off in the first presidential debate of the 2 (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"We have the greatest economy in the history of our country," Trump responded. "We have never done so well. Everybody was amazed by it. Other countries were copying us. We got hit with COVID, and when we did, we spent the money necessary so we wouldn't end up in a great depression, the likes of which we had in 1929."


Joe Biden Donald Trump presidential debate

Former President Trump, left, and President Biden sparred over whose administration was responsible for causing the high inflation the U.S. has experienced since 2021. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"He's done a poor job and inflation is killing our country. It's absolutely killing us," former President Trump added.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that inflation trended around 2% through 2019 before it plunged following the onset of the COVID pandemic, dipping to 0.12% in May 2020 as the global economy shutdown before rebounding above 1% in the second half of the year.


Joe Biden presidential debate

President Biden said the economic conditions he inherited from former President Trump caused inflation. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images / Getty Images)

In January 2021, when President Biden took office, year-over-year inflation was 1.4%. With the economy still plagued by pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, inflation began to rise and reached 5% in May and topped 7% in December as 2021 drew to a close. 

The recovery of the labor market also factored into the rise of inflation, as unemployment peaked at 14.8% in April 2020 at the depth of the lockdowns but had fallen to 6.8% by October 2020. The unemployment rate is currently at 4%, the highest level in over two years.


Donald Trump presidential debate

Former President Trump blamed President Biden's administration for causing the surge of inflation. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Inflation continued to rise in 2022, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine and additional federal spending contributing to the inflationary pressures – eventually peaking at 9.1% in June 2022, a 40-year-high. 

Since then, inflation has subsided and totaled 3.3% in May 2024 – though that remains above the Federal Reserve's 2% target rate, which has contributed to the central bank holding interest rates at the highest level in 23 years.

Biden and Trump clashed over inflation again later in the debate, with Trump saying, "He caused the inflation, and it's killing Black families and Hispanic families and just about everybody. It's killing people. They can't buy groceries anymore." 

ground beef

Beef prices increased 5.7% in May. (Photo by Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Food inflation has been particularly sharp, with items including beef up 5.7% in May and food away from home also up 5.7%, according to the latest consumer price index released by the BLS. 

Companies including McDonald's and Yum Brand's Taco Bell are racing to offer value deals to entice strapped customers to dine-out.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
MCD MCDONALD'S CORP. 250.00 +2.21 +0.89%
YUM YUM! BRANDS INC. 129.58 -0.45 -0.35%


Biden responded by saying, "There was no inflation when I took office. You wanna know why? The economy was flat on its back, 15% unemployment. He decimated the economy, absolutely decimated the economy. That's why there's no inflation at the time. There were no jobs… But inflation, he caused it by his tremendous malfeasance and the way he handled the pandemic."

FOX Business' Edward Lawrence contributed to this report.