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Making the US economy relatable: Dude, where’s my chair?

In this July 6, 2021, photo A sign indicates a sold patio furniture floor model at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, Md., July 6, 2021. The garden supply store in suburban Baltimore has been waiting six months for a shipping container from Vietnam full of $100,000 worth of wicker and aluminum furniture. Half of the container has already been sold by showing customers photographs. The container should have arrived in February, but it reached U.S. waters on June 3 and recently docked in Long Beach, Calif. (AP Photo / Julio Cortez)

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White House reporter Josh Boak found a way to take readers beyond the eye-glazing phrase “supply chain economics” by illustrating the current U.S. economy — the reasons behind its strengths and vulnerabilities — through the very relatable lens of patio furniture shortages.

The story angle grew from a shopping trip with his wife to a couple of stores to look for a flowerpot. Boak, who specializes in economic reporting, noticed the paucity of patio furniture in the showrooms and began pulling up inflation reports. He then talked to managers at garden supply companies about their travails and emerged with a story that told the tale of the U.S. economy through this small slice of it. “There is the paradox of the fastest growth in generations at more than 6% yet also persistent delays for anyone trying to buy furniture, autos and a wide mix of other goods,” he wrote.

Boak’s story, anchored at a garden supply store in Cockeysville, Maryland, and accompanied by Julio Cortez’s photos, was among AP’s top stories in pageviews for the day and continued to attract interest days later.

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John Hessler, manager of the patio section at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, Md., poses for the AP amid just a few samples in his showroom, July 6, 2021. – AP Photo / Julio Cortez
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