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Inflation! (Is Still Pretty Low)

Jess Jiang/NPR
Jess Jiang/NPR

Over the past year, the global prices of commodities like wheat and cotton went through the roof. But for the most part, prices for American consumers went up just a little bit.

Overall, prices for U.S. consumers rose by 1.6 percent over the past year, according to government figures out this morning. As the graph above shows, that was less inflation than we saw for most of the past decade.

That's in large part because the price of basic commodities accounts for a pretty small chunk of the price of most goods and services in this country. (Gasoline is a notable exception.) The cost of labor and other factors has a much bigger effect.

Here's how much the prices of some key items rose over the past year, according to today's numbers:

  • Food, 1.8 percent
  • Gasoline, 13.4 percent
  • Electricity, 1.2 percent
  • New vehicles, 0.1 percent
  • Apparel, no change
  • Shelter, 0.6 percent
  • Medical care services, 3.0 percent

The Fed and other policymakers also look at "core inflation," which leaves out food and energy prices because they tend to fluctuate pretty wildly. Core inflation was 1 percent over the past year, also low by historic standards. (The Fed has suggested it's aiming for core inflation of 2 percent per year.)

The Consumer Price Index figures released this morning did suggest that inflation may be picking up. While the annual inflation figures remain low, the pace of month-to-month price changes is increasing. For more on this — and a couple nice graphs showing month-to-month changes — see this piece from the Atlantic.

For an inside look at how the government tallies CPI, see our post, "Why Your Salary May Be Affected By The Price Of Lettuce"

What do rising global food prices mean for the U.S.? See our post from yesterday.