Inflation: Not as low as you think

Gasoline prices are displayed at a station on Feb. 21, 2012, in Oakland, Calif. AP Photo/Ben Margot

Forget the modest 3.1 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index, the government's widely used measure of inflation. Everyday prices are up some 8 percent over the past year, according to the American Institute for Economic Research.

The not-for-profit research group measures inflation without looking at the big, one-time purchases that can skew the numbers. That means they don't look at the price of houses, furniture, appliances, cars, or computers. Instead, AIER focuses on Americans' typical daily purchases, such as food, gasoline, child care, prescription drugs, phone and television service, and other household products.

The institute contends that to get a good read on inflation's "sticker shock" effect, you must look at the cost of goods that the average household buys at least once a month and factor in only the kinds of expenses that are subject to change. That, too, eliminates the cost of housing because when you finance your home with a fixed-rate mortgage, that expense remains constant until you refinance or move.

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The group maintains that this index better measures the real-world impact of price changes, particularly for people on a budget. And, largely as the result of the recent run-up in gas prices, this "everyday price index" (EPI) suggests that Americans are being pinched far more tightly than the official inflation measure would have you believe.

Over the past year, the EPI is up just over 8 percent, according to the economics group. The biggest factor: Motor fuel and transportation costs are up 21.06 percent from year-ago levels. The cost of food, prescription drugs, and tobacco also have increased faster than the government's inflation measure, rising 3.56 percent, 4.21 percent, and 3.4 percent, respectively.

On the bright side, prices of household fuel (natural gas and electricity) and supplies have increased only 2.74 percent; recreation and personal care products are up less than 1 percent; and telephone or Internet services are down 0.66 percent.

Admittedly, the purchases that the EPI tracks make up slightly less than 40 percent of the average household budget. But Steven Cunningham, research and education director at AIER, says these items are what contribute to the "sticker shock at the gasoline pump and the supermarket check-out line."

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