May 17, 2017

Why consumers think inflation is higher than the official data

lt will come as a surprise to many Americans that the Federal Reserve has considered disinflation, or the absence of rising prices, to be one of the most pressing problems facing the U.S. economy.

Despite inflation averaging less than the Fed's target rate of 2% per year since the financial crisis, surveys of consumers routinely show them perceiving inflation as closer to 10%:

Data: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Jill Milsinksy, Research Director with Advisor Perspectives, recently broke down official inflation data to show how inflation rates differ greatly for different kind of spending, lending insight into why we think inflation is higher than it is, and why people feel economically insecure even in these days of plentiful employment.

"Households vary dramatically in the impact that inflation has upon them. When gasoline prices skyrocket, a two-earner suburban family with long car commutes suffers far more than the metro family with short subway commutes or retirees with no commute," she writes. "And the pain is even more extreme for low-income households whose grocery money shrinks when gas prices rise."

Furthermore, the divergence in inflation rates between product groups shows that even as price growth overall has been tame, prices for the goods that are most important in life—namely healthcare, housing, and education—are rising much faster.

Why it matters: Rising prices in healthcare, housing, and education have dominated the political discourse in national races and local constituencies across the country. The Federal Reserve doesn't have the tools or authority to target industry-specific inflation, but voters across the country are demanding that somebody does stop the relentless rise in prices for the most important things we buy.

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