Here’s a riddle: How can inflation be 8.5 percent and 6.5 percent at the same time? The answer is that it depends on how you measure it.
Determining how quickly prices are rising or falling – and where they may be headed in the future – is not simple. In the United States, millions of goods and services are bought and sold every day – shelter, food, transportation, energy, water, education, childcare, equipment and tools, medical care, furnishings, apparel, trash removal, and much more.
The government relies on two indexes: the Consumer Price index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE). Each index has two versions: headline inflation and core inflation.
Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that CPI headline inflation was up 8.5 percent in March, and CPI core inflation was up 6.5 percent.
The BLS does not collect every price in every part of the United States. It gathers prices in 75 cities, collecting data from about 6,000 households and 22,000 department stores, supermarkets, hospitals, gas stations, and other establishments. So, the CPI is a measurement that reflects the experience of urban consumers.
CPI headline inflation
Last week, the CPI showed that headline inflation, which includes all price changes collected, was up 1.2 percent from February to March, and up 8.5 percent for the 12-month period that ended March 31. The largest increases in the CPI were:
Used cars and truck prices +35.3 percent
Energy prices(fuel oil, gasoline, natural gas, etc.) +32.0 percent
New car prices +12.5 percent
Food prices (groceries and eating out) + 8.8 percent
CPI core inflation
The BLS also reported on core inflation, which is the CPI minus food and energy prices, and was lower than headline inflation. The core CPI was up 0.3 percent from February to March, and up 6.5 percent for the 12-month period that ended March 31.
Why would anyone want to exclude staples like food and energy from inflation?
The answer is that food and energy prices are volatile – food and energy are commodities that trade on exchanges – and can distort inflation readings. “Trying to manage monetary policy with gauges that fluctuate wildly would be like driving a car where the speedometer was constantly fluttering between 30 mph and 60 mph. Taking a long-term average may reduce the effect — but only for looking at the past history. Policymakers are forward-focused. They need guidance on where the inflation trend is headed. High volatility obscures that trend,” explained George Calhoun of Forbes.”
To sum up: headline CPI reflects Americans’ cost increases in the recent past, while core CPI is a better indicator of where inflation may be headed, reported Joseph Haubrich of the Cleveland Federal Reserve.
It’s important to note that the Federal Reserve relies on the PCE when making policy decisions. The PCE is a broader measure of inflation than the CPI. The PCE includes measurements taken in urban, non-urban, and rural areas, as well as spending by members of the military and a wider range of organizations. PCE data for March will be released on April 29.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices declined, reported Al Root of Barron’s. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose last week.
Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation…
In the United States, we often describe groups of people by applying generational labels – Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and so on. Researchers use these generational cohorts to better understand formative experiences, world views, aging processes, and other issues. See what you know about generational demographics by taking this brief quiz.
How many generations live in the United States today?
A Four (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers)
B Five (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Gen)
C Six (Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, the Silent Gen, and the Greatest Gen)
D Seven (Gen Alpha, Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Baby Boomers, the Silent Gen, and the Greatest Gen)
When surveyed, which of the following events did Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silent Generation respondents agree occurred during their lifetimes and had a powerful impact on our country?
A Moon landing
B Civil Rights movement
C Berlin Wall/ End of Cold War
D The tech revolution
Which generation currently has the most economic and political power?
A Gen Z
C Gen X
D Baby Boomers
E Silent Gen
Which generation owns the most small businesses?
A Gen Z
C Gen X
D Baby Boomers
E Silent Gen
Which generation is the most influential on digital platforms?
A Gen Z
C Gen X
D Baby Boomers
E Silent Gen
The answers are below.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, philosopher and poet
Answers: 1) d; 2) d; 3) d; 4) c; 5) b
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