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Why is everything so expensive? A quick look at what 1982-level Inflation means in 2021

The last time inflation was this high, Ronald Reagan was president and Apple was on the verge of releasing the Lisa.

That's interesting history to some – searches for 'who was president in 1982' spiked on Friday –  but brushing up on trivia won't get you any closer to understanding how 2021's version is playing out across the country.

For that we turned to USA TODAY's team of reporters who've been tracking the surging prices and the solutions politicians and economists have proposed, in addition to ways ways you can save – and maybe even get ahead – if the trend continues . 

►To get unlimited access to news from around the corner and around the world, please consider a USA TODAY subscription.

What is the U.S. inflation rate?

The nation's worst bout of inflation in decades got a little worse last month.

Inflation hit a 39-year high in November as an economy still grappling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic drove strong consumer demand as well as persistent supply-chain snarls and labor shortages.

The consumer price index jumped 6.8% from a year earlier, the fastest pace since 1982, as prices surged for staples such as food and gasoline, new and used cars, rent and physicians' services, among other items, the Labor Department said Friday. That's up from 6.2%, which was a three-decade high, in October.

►Latest CPI report:Consumer prices jumped 6.8% in November, the fastest inflation spike since 1982

What does high inflation mean for you?

According to the Labor Department, prices have surged for food and gasoline, as well as used cars, rent and medical care. So Americans are paying more for many everyday staples, monthly expenses and more.  

Beef, chicken and pork prices have all seen spikes, as well as eggs, bread and fresh fruits and vegetables.  

And if you were planning to turn to online retailers for your Christmas shopping, you might also see higher prices driven by inflation. Adobe announced on Thursday online inflation data for November, which it said has reached a record high at 3.5% year-over-year. 

►How to combat higher prices:Inflation rate increase means groceries and Christmas gifts cost more.

Why is inflation happening?

Inflation has jumped since earlier this year as COVID-19 vaccinations increased and the economy reopened in the wake of last years shutdowns. 

The pandemic has driven strong consumer demand, while also impacting supply-chain complications and labor shortages for many businesses and industries. But the drivers behind inflation are complex and can't be blamed on one factor or industry. 

Experts also point to a surge in exports, extreme weather that has impacted crop yields and even consumer eating patterns as additional drivers of higher grocery prices. You can find additional coverage of what has pushed inflation to a 39-year high here. 

What is driving US inflation?:The reasons and solutions are complicated

How are politicians trying to stop inflation?

Economists have attributed the rise in consumer prices over the past year to several factors, including supply chain breakdowns, labor shortages and a sudden burst of spending after widespread lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That means there’s not much President Joe Biden can do to tame inflation, economists say.

Because the spike in inflation can be traced to the economic impact of COVID-19, the most important thing the Biden administration could do to tame inflation would be to get the pandemic under control, said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

“Until the pandemic recedes, inflation is going to be a problem,” he said.

Republicans are seizing on inflation to attack Democrats and their government spending policies in an election year.

Rather than promoting a new and specific anti-inflation plan of their own, most Republicans are previewing the 2022 elections by repeating long time calls to curb federal spending, cut taxes and reduce regulations – arguments that have helped them periodically win control of Congress over the past three-quarters of a century.

Rather than offer a specific plan, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP candidates say they would tame inflation with traditional Republican economic doctrine, particularly spending reductions, and tax and regulation cuts.

►How to stop inflation? Here are steps the Biden administration can take to try to help

►The Republican plan for inflation? It's more about the 2022 campaign than current policy

How to hedge against inflation

Investors know high inflation can be good for the stock market

Companies can continue to innovate and are often in industries that can pass on rising costs to consumers. Nobody likes higher prices, but folks are likely to be willing to swallow them. Thus, stock prices still can rise.

For the cautious, focus on companies that make consumer staples, like toilet paper or dishwasher detergent, that will profit in good times and bad.

Maxing out your 401k, which also may come with a company match, is a great way to take advantage of stocks on the money you won’t need until retirement.

►Profit during inflation?:These 5 tips could help investors beat rising prices 

Inflation chart by year