Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the Consumer Price Index (CPI), students explore the latest release for January 2015, analyze the extent to which consumer misperception about the inflation rate can exist, and explore the consequences of this misperception.
- Discuss reasons why the consumer perceptions of the price level can be different than reality
- Analyze the effects of a mismatch between the real and perceived price level.
Current Key Economic Indicatorsas of April 4, 2015
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.2% in February on a seasonally adjusted basis. Over the last 12 months, the all-items price index was unchanged. The energy index increased after several months of decline. Core inflation rose 0.2% in February, the same increase as in January.
The unemployment rate stayed at 5.5% in March, 2015, according to the latest release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on April 3, 2015. The number of jobs added was much lower than in previous months, with only 126,000 new jobs added to the economy, the fewest number since December of 2013. Some job categories added workers, including health care, professional and business services, financial services, and retail. Average hourly wage growth was 7 cents, but average hours worked fell.
Real GDP increased 2.2% in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the final estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This estimate is consistent with the revised estimate. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 5.0%. Consumer spending rose 4.4%, compared to 3.2% in the third quarter. Business investment and exports also increased. Offsetting these gains were increases in imports and decreases in federal government spending, particularly defense spending. (
In its March 18, 2015, statement, the FOMC cited the continued growth of the labor market, increased household and business spending, and below-target inflation as indicators of an economy that continues to recover. They expect below-target inflation to rise as oil prices increase in the medium term. The statement reaffirmed the FOMC intention to keep the federal funds rate at its current low level, but also said that a rate hike was highly unlikely at its April meeting. Notably, the FOMC dropped the word "patient" from its language describing its stance on an improving economy and a rate hike. The Fed revised downward its economic projections, including the rate of unemployment that would sustain a stable inflation rate.
BLS release of CPI data: February 26, 2015 for January 2015.
- BLS "Focus on Spending and Prices": These quarterly reports highlight recent trends in inflation and spending in the U.S. economy.
"The Consumer Price Index.": This article is from the BLS Handbook of Methods, Chapter 17. It talks in great depth about the CPI.
Frequently Asked Questions About the CPI: This site answers FAQ's for those trying to read CPI releases.
CPI Inflation Calculator: This calculator allows users to compare price changes over time due to inflation.
EconomicIndicators.gov: This site provides the latest updates on U.S. economic indicators.
BLS Economic Indicators: This site provides the latest updates on U.S. economic indicators.
Whose Buying Habits Does the CPI Reflect?: This page explains that the BLS measurement of the CPI-U includes all urban consumers, representing about 87 percent of the total U.S. population.
Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers: U.S. City Average, by Expenditure Category and Commodity and Service Group. This table explains the current level of the CPI-U.
BLS Feature: Focus on Prices and Spending- What Does the Producer Price Index Measure? The BLS breaks down the official definition of the Producer Price Index to clear up common misconceptions about prices, production, and price pass-though within the PPI.
BLS, Frequently Asked Questions webpage
Frequently Asked Questions
Key Economic Indicatorsas of March 7, 2015
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.7% in January on a seasonally adjusted basis. Over the last 12 months, the all-items price index fell 0.1%, the first 12-month negative change since the period ending October 2009. The gasoline index fell 18.7% and was the main cause of the decrease in the seasonally adjusted all items index. Core inflation rose 0.2% in January.
The unemployment rate fell to 5.5% in February of 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics release of March 6, 2015. Total nonfarm employment rose by 295,000. Job gains were particularly strong in food services and drinking places, professional and business services, and construction. Manufacturing employment also increased, although not as much as last month.
Real GDP increased 2.2% in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to the revised estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This estimate is 0.4 percentage points less than the advance estimate. Consumer spending rose 4.2%, along with business investment, exports, and state and local government spending. Offsetting these gains were increases in imports and decreases in federal government spending.
In its January 28, 2015, statement, the FOMC cited the continued growth of the labor market, increased household and business spending, and below-target inflation as indicators of an economy that continues to recover. They expect below-target inflation to rise as oil prices and other "transitory" effects diminish. The statement reaffirmed the FOMC intention to keep the federal funds rate at its current low level. Notably, the FOMC added international variables to its list of factors to monitor for the timing of a rate increase.
Often consumers' perceptions of the price level and inflation are inaccurate because of anchoring and frequency bias. When core inflation and the overall CPI sharply diverge, consumers may come to the conclusion that government officials are not effectively managing inflation, or they could make investment decisions based on their erroneous conclusions about the true inflation rate. For example, when gasoline prices begin to rise, consumers will likely put a disproportionate weight on this price increase, forming conclusions about the overall price level that may be incorrect.
Ask students what would happen if consumers' expectations were that inflation was going to start increasing in the near future (consumers would start buying more goods and services now, when the prices are lower). Ask what effect this surge in buying would have on the economy (it would cause the price level to go up--the very outcome that consumers were trying to avoid by buying now). Make the point that sometimes macroeconomic outcomes are caused or at least intensified by changes in expectations, so that the expectations become self-fulfilling prophesies. For example, when economic agents fear that a recession is imminent, they cut back on expenditures, which further decreases GDP.
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