Prices and Inflation
Consumer Price Index ― Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data for goods and services from around the country each month and extrapolates the inflation rate from changes in those prices. The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, which we link to here, is based on spending by most professionals, wage earners, retirees, the self-employed and the unemployed. Rural consumers are excluded, so the survey covers about 87 percent of the U.S. population, according to BLS.
BLS notes that the Consumer Price Index is not an exact measure of the cost of living. The BLS measure does not take into account, for example, how a cancelled bus route might impact a worker who used it for transportation to work, or how improving public safety in a neighborhood might change consumer habits. Because public goods are not measured by CPI, BLS contends, it’s not a pure cost of living index, though for practical purposes it often functions as one.
The All Urban Consumers is the broadest index, but BLS also provides a consumer price index for urban wage and clerical workers (the inflation experience of more modest earners might vary considerably from the wealthy), by region and for selected metropolitan statistical areas. You can also find indexes for the individual components of the CPI —food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communications and a broad category for other goods and services that contains everything from cigarettes to funeral services.
Good to know:
Two of the potentially most volatile components of the Consumer Price Index could have an impact on the election: Fuel —particularly the cost of gasoline—and food prices. The Midwestern drought is driving up the price of corn, and volatility in the Middle East could lead to a spike in the price of oil.
BLS has a handy inflation calculator to compare the purchasing power of dollar amounts across years, available here.
Data updates: Monthly
Data covers: 1913-2012
Geographic areas covered: National data, though data for some metropolitan areas is available either monthly, bimonthly or semiannually.