U.S. Inflation Highest Since 1981 as CPI Hits 8.5% in March

Inflation again ran at its quickest annual pace in over 40 years, boosted to a new high by price increases in March for a broad range of goods and services, according to government data released Tuesday, April 12.

The annual leap was driven greatly by the soaring costs for food and gasoline, as well as a 30-year high in housing.

In the headline monthly figure, U.S. consumer prices increased 1.2% in March, for the largest monthly gain since September 2005 and following a 0.8% increase in February, 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 food to fuel oil.

Accounting for over half of the monthly CPI increase, prices at the pump soared 18.3% after rising 6.6% previously. Gas prices advanced 48% from a year earlier.

The broader index for energy, which combines items like gasoline, electricity, and fuel oil, surged 11% in March from 3.5% in February. Energy prices rose 32% from a year ago.

Overall food prices increased 1% for a second month a row with grocery prices rising 1.5% and the cost of dining out increasing 0.3%. Food prices rose 8.8% year-on-year, for the biggest yearly increase since May 1981, with costs up 10% for groceries and 6.9% for food away from home. Prices for virtually all major grocery items have soared in the past year.

Excluding the more volatile food and energy components, core consumer prices picked up 0.3% in March after rising 0.5% in February.

"The big news in the March report was that core price pressures finally appear to be moderating," CNBC quoted Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

The slower pace is especially contrasting to a few months ago. As recently as June, 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 (core monthly) increase, with a broad set of other indexes also contributing, including those for airline fares, household furnishings and operations, medical care, and motor vehicle insurance. In contrast, the index for used cars and trucks fell 3.8 percent over the month," the Labor Department’s monthly report said.

Shelter or housing costs rose 0.5% for a second straight month, and they advanced 5% from a year earlier for their biggest 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.

"The index for household furnishings and operations increased 10.1 percent over the past year, its largest 12-month increase since the period ending July 1975," the report noted.

Airline fares soared 10.7% last month after rising 5.2% in February, and they increased 23.6% from a year ago.

Clothing prices rose 0.6% last month after increasing 0.7%, and they advanced 6.8% from a year earlier.

New vehicle prices climbed 0.2%, for their eleventh increase in twelve months, after rising 0.3% previously. Prices increased 12.5% from a year ago.

In the headline annual figure, inflation surged 8.5% over the past 12 months, for the highest inflation rate year-over-year since December 1981, and up from the prior 7.9% increase.

Core inflation rose 6.5% over the past year, for the biggest increase since the annual period ending August 1982 and compares to 6.4% 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.

"The Fed will be pressing firmly on the brake pedal — not just pumping the brakes – in an effort to slow demand and bring the inflation rate back down," the AP quoted Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.

The following table of key inflation figures is for the last seven months through March, as published by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi) on April 12, 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.

September 2021 to March 2022 Consumer Prices – Gains & Losses in Percent
(Seasonally Adjusted)

  Sept. 2021 Oct. 2021 Nov. 2021 Dec. 2021 Jan. 2022 Feb. 2022 March 2022 12 Month
All items 0.4 0.9 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.8 1.2 8.5
  Food 0.9 0.9 0.8 0.5 0.9 1.0 1.0 8.8
    Food at home 1.2 0.9 0.9 0.4 1.0 1.4 1.5 10.0
    Food away from home 0.5 0.8 0.6 0.6 0.7 0.4 0.3 6.9
  Energy 1.2 3.7 2.4 0.9 0.9 3.5 11.0 32.0
    Energy commodities 1.2 4.7 4.2 1.3 -0.6 6.7 18.1 48.3
      Gasoline (all types) 1.1 4.6 4.5 1.3 -0.8 6.6 18.3 48.0
      Fuel oil 3.9 12.3 3.5 -2.4 9.5 7.7 22.3 70.1
    Energy services 1.2 2.4 0.2 0.3 2.9 -0.4 1.8 13.5
      Electricity 0.6 1.4 0.2 0.5 4.2 -1.1 2.2 11.1
      Utility (piped) gas service 2.9 5.9 0.3 -0.3 -0.5 1.5 0.6 21.6
  All items less food, energy 0.3 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.3 6.5
    Commodities less food, energy 0.3 1.1 0.9 1.2 1.0 0.4 -0.4 11.7
      New vehicles 1.3 1.3 1.2 1.2 .0 0.3 0.2 12.5
      Used cars and trucks -0.5 2.5 2.4 3.3 1.5 -0.2 -3.8 35.3
      Apparel -0.7 0.6 0.7 1.1 1.1 0.7 0.6 6.8
      Medical care 0.3 0.6 0.1 .0 0.9 0.3 0.2 2.7
    Services less energy 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 4.7
      Shelter 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.5 0.5 5.0
      Transportation -1.0 0.2 0.7 .0 1.0 1.4 2.0 7.7
      Medical care 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.6 0.1 0.6 2.9

 

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 April and the latest annual period become public on May 11, 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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