A tale of many inflations

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New numbers out today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show consumer prices unchanged from last month. At least that’s the case for the core measure of inflation, which strips out food and energy prices since they’re so volatile. If you add those in, which you might want to do if you are thinking about this from the viewpoint of an actual consumer, then inflation was up a seasonally-adjusted 0.4% in November, as compared to October, and up 1.8% over the past twelve months.

But whether or not you’re feeling those increases has a lot to do with how you spend money. For some Americans, prices actually aren’t going up that much at all.

The first big divide has to do with how much you drive your car (or whether you have car in the first place). No surprise there. Energy is one of the most volatile components of the consumer price index, and even within that category, gasoline is notoriously all over the map. In November, gas prices were up 6.4% from October. Compared to a year ago, gas was 23.6% more expensive. Electricity prices, by contrast, are down 0.1% over the past year. If you live near your job, or even find ways to take public transportation, then you just don’t feel the increased cost of energy all that much.

The same sort of split can be seen between people who eat out a lot and those who eat most of their meals at home. Prices for food consumed at home have dropped 2.9% over the past year. That’s largely because of falling prices for dairy products and produce. If you’re a restaurant-eater, though, you’re feeling the opposite effect. Over the past year, the price index of food consumed away from home has gone up 2.1%

One big cost incurred by most everyone—housing—has stayed fairly steady this past year. But there are plenty of other categories where that’s not the case. If you smoke, buy a lot of shoes, pay school tuition, have a kid in daycare or make many trips to the doctor, things probably seem more expensive to you. If, on the other hand, you stay in hotels, shop mostly for your son and husband and like to buy computer equipment, things may actually seem cheaper (because they are).

Where you live makes a difference, too. According to the BLS’s regional breakdown, people living in small southern cities (with a population of less than 50,000) have seen the biggest increase in prices over the past year (3.2%), while people living in large western metropolises (pop. greater than 1.5 million) have seen the smallest gain (1.2%).

Though with unemployment at 10%, maybe whether prices are edging up or down isn’t the biggest factor in how expensive goods and services seem.