U.S. Inflation at 7.9% Highest Since 1982 as Prices Surge for Gas, Food and Shelter

Inflation continues to be an ongoing burden for Americans as they again had to pay a lot more last month for gasoline, food, housing and other common goods and services, according to a government report released Thursday, March 10.

Inflation over the longer haul is getting uglier as well. Prices for food and gas have soared from a year ago, contributing to an annual inflation rate that is now the biggest in just over 40 years.

In the headline monthly figure, U.S. consumer prices rose 0.8% in February following a 0.6% increase in January, the Labor Department said in its monthly report on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a broad measure of what Americans pay for everyday items ranging from coffee to cars.

In several key consumer pricing categories:

  • Prices at the pump surged 6.6% in February, accounting for nearly a third of the monthly CPI increase, after falling 0.8% in January. Gas prices jumped 38% from a year earlier.

  • The broader index for energy, which combines items like gasoline, electricity, and fuel oil, picked up by 3.5% following two consecutive 0.9% gains. Energy prices ramped up 25.6% in the past 12 months.

  • Overall food prices for the month increased 1% from 0.9% as the price of groceries climbed 1.4% — both register as the largest monthly gains since April 2020. Food prices rose 7.9% year-on-year, the biggest 12-month gain since July 1981, with the cost of groceries up 8.6% and the price of eating out 6.8% higher.

Excluding the more volatile food and energy components, core consumer prices climbed 0.5% in February after rising 0.6% in January. This marks the eighth time in the last 11 months of an increase of at least 0.5%. As recently as June, and before in April, the core index at 0.9% was the highest for a month since April 1982.

"The shelter index was by far the biggest factor in the increase, with a broad set of indexes also contributing, including those for recreation, household furnishings and operations, motor vehicle insurance, personal care, and airline fares," the Labor Department’s monthly report said.

Shelter or housing costs went up 0.5% in February compared to 0.3% in January, and they rose 4.7% for their largest 12-month increase since May 1991. Components of shelter include pricing items like rent for apartments, rental equivalence, lodging away from home such as hotels and motels, and housing at schools. The index accounts for about one-third of the entire CPI.

Airline fares increased 5.2% last month and they increased 12.7% from a year ago.

Used car and truck prices dipped 0.2% from their prior 1.5% rise but they increased 41.2% over the past 12 months.

Clothing prices rose 0.7% after two straight increases of 1.1%, and they increased 6.6% from a year earlier.

New vehicle prices climbed 0.3%, for their tenth increase in eleven months, after coming in flat in January. Prices rose 12.4% from a year ago.

In the headline annual figure, inflation rose 7.9% over the past 12 months, the highest inflation rate year-over-year since January 1982, following the prior 7.5% increase.

"February’s CPI reading was the highest in 40 years — again — but what was once forecast to be the inflation peak is now the jumping off point for ever higher inflation sparked by the war in Ukraine," MarketWatch quoted Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Core inflation rose 6.4% over the past year to register for a second straight time as the biggest increase since the annual period ending August 1982. It compares to 6% previously. The core, "all items less food and energy" index is one of the benchmark inflation rates monitored by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) as it helps the central bank decide where to set its key interest rate.

"Consumers’ shock at rapidly rising gas prices at the pump will continue to put pressure on the Fed and policy makers to do something, anything, to slow down the speed at which prices everywhere are moving higher," Reuters quoted Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"There are many people who point out that the Fed can’t control supply chains or increase the efficiency of our ports, but they never could. What they can control is interest rates and they are much too low."

The following table of key inflation figures is for the last seven months through February, as published by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi) on March 10, 2022. To index the data each month, the BLS monitors the prices of about 80,000 consumer goods and services from around the nation. All monthly and annual pricing changes are in percentages.

August 2021 to February 2022 Consumer Prices – Gains & Losses in Percent
(Seasonally Adjusted)

  August 2021 September 2021 October 2021 November 2021 December 2021 January 2022 February 2022 12 Month
All items 0.3 0.4 0.9 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.8 7.9
  Food 0.4 0.9 0.9 0.8 0.5 0.9 1.0 7.9
    Food at home 0.4 1.2 0.9 0.9 0.4 1.0 1.4 8.6
    Food away from home 0.4 0.5 0.8 0.6 0.6 0.7 0.4 6.8
  Energy 1.9 1.2 3.7 2.4 0.9 0.9 3.5 25.6
    Energy commodities 2.5 1.2 4.7 4.2 1.3 -0.6 6.7 37.9
      Gasoline (all types) 2.5 1.1 4.6 4.5 1.3 -0.8 6.6 38.0
      Fuel oil -2.1 3.9 12.3 3.5 -2.4 9.5 7.7 43.6
    Energy services 1.2 1.2 2.4 0.2 0.3 2.9 -0.4 12.3
      Electricity 1.0 0.6 1.4 0.2 0.5 4.2 -1.1 9.0
      Utility (piped) gas service 1.6 2.9 5.9 0.3 -0.3 -0.5 1.5 23.8
  All items less food, energy 0.2 0.3 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5 6.4
    Commodities less food, energy 0.4 0.3 1.1 0.9 1.2 1.0 0.4 12.3
      New vehicles 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.2 .0 0.3 12.4
      Used cars and trucks -1.2 -0.5 2.5 2.4 3.3 1.5 -0.2 41.2
      Apparel 0.3 -0.7 0.6 0.7 1.1 1.1 0.7 6.6
      Medical care -0.2 0.3 0.6 0.1 .0 0.9 0.3 2.5
    Services less energy 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.4 0.5 4.4
      Shelter 0.2 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.5 4.7
      Transportation -1.2 -1.0 0.2 0.7 .0 1.0 1.4 6.6
      Medical care 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.6 0.1 2.4

 

The BLS releases inflation data around the middle of a month for consumer prices surveyed up to the previous month. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for March and the latest annual period become public on April 12, 2022.

CPI data is used in calculating inflation rates and in this site’s U.S. Inflation Calculator. The US Inflation Calculator shows cumulative inflation and the change in buying power of the U.S. dollar over time.

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