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Tag Archives: Consumer Price Index

Inflation, as Seen through the Bake Shop Window

At BLS, we are always looking for new ways to help readers understand the latest economic data. As measures of price change have garnered a heaping amount of financial coverage lately, the pastry chefs who publish our monthly inflation figures are experimenting with some new recipes to highlight current results. Our first attempt, straight out of the fryer: an inflation doughnut, in honor of National Doughnut Day.

We don’t mean to sugarcoat the impact of inflation on economic markets and household budgets, as high inflation can have disruptive and acrid consequences. Instead, we aim here to showcase the statistics in a window display that highlights the data in a fresh perspective. We start with an inflation doughnut, which is divided into sections to compare how many prices are increasing (inflation), decreasing (deflation), or remaining unchanged. You can display an inflation doughnut for just one month (think of it as just a doughnut hole) or over a longer time like a year or more (like a baker’s dozen). For this price change doughnut, we show all the ingredients to overall price change—the increases, the decreases, and the components with no change. Let’s look at an inflation doughnut example from the Consumer Price Index.

Consumer Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for all goods and services, April 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

But not everyone likes doughnuts, including my editors, who seem partial to crullers and other more linear pastries. Apparently, these circular graphics can be hard to understand. So, the charts below focus on the same data, but with a different look. Nonetheless, the doughnut references are too good to pass up.

As a reminder, BLS has three monthly price programs, each of which produces many different estimates. By tracking each of these programs, you can learn more about price transmission through the production process. (Hmm, that sounds like a topic for a future blog.) Here’s a brief reminder about the BLS price programs:

  • The Import/Export Price Indexes contain data on changes in prices of nonmilitary goods and services traded between the United States and the rest of the world. As the new kid on the block, import and export price indexes are like those new gourmet doughnuts, perhaps topped with bacon and maple syrup.
  • The Producer Price Index (PPI) measures the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers for their output. As the oldest price index program, the PPI is the workhorse, your basic powdered doughnut. It’s been around for years but still hits the spot.
  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services. The CPI is the doughnut on the top shelf that gets most of the attention, maybe with chocolate frosting and multi-colored sprinkles.

Now that your mouth is watering, let’s look at the data.

Starting with import and export price data, we can see that nearly half of import item prices were higher over the past year, with 48 percent of all imports prices exhibiting inflationary trends; for imports of consumer goods, 42 percent had higher prices. We see similar trends  among exports.

Import Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for all imports and import consumer goods, April 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

With the PPI, we focus on the share of industries showing price changes. Data are available for three different sectors. In keeping with the doughnut theme, goods-producing industries represent the jelly filling, with 98 percent of these industries exhibiting inflation over the past year. In the center, or the cake, 86 percent of service-providing industries were inflationary. Finally, the strawberry glaze on the outside looks at construction industries, with all showing inflation.

Producer Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for industry groups, April 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Finally, we look again at data for the CPI, but this time our doughnuts are flattened. Here we show the share of items in the market basket that experience rising or falling prices or no change. As a doughnut, the “core” CPI, that is, all items less food and energy, is somewhat vanilla, like Boston Cream filling. Over the past 12 months, about three-quarters of core items have shown price increases, 19 percent have shown price decreases, and a small percentage show no change. In contrast, the prices for food and energy pack more zest, like a chocolate glaze, showing considerable inflation—nearly 89 percent of items—with only a small amount of deflation. The food and energy inflation may be influenced by rising energy prices, perhaps related to an increase in late-night drives to the local bakery.

Consumer Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for core and food and energy goods and services, April 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We hope our tour of the pastry shop has added some spice to your understanding of price change statistics. For more traditional graphics showing trends in BLS data, check out the Graphics for Economic News Releases page on our website. Next time, try the pumpkin spice.

Consumer Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for all goods and services, April 2022
IndexInflationDeflationNo change

CPI for All Urban Consumers
Import Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for all imports and import consumer goods, April 2022
CategoryInflationDeflationNo change

All imports


Import consumer goods

Producer Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for industry groups, April 2022
Industry groupInflationDeflationNo change

Goods-producing industries


Service-providing industries


Construction industries

Consumer Price Index: Distribution of 12-month price changes for core and food and energy goods and services, April 2022
CategoryInflationDeflationNo change


Food and energy

A Blueprint for Modernizing the Consumer Price Index

At BLS, we never stop improving. We highly value any input from our data users, technical advisors, and other experts that helps us improve our high quality economic statistics. On May 3, 2022, we welcomed the latest evaluation of one of our statistical programs from the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT): Modernizing the Consumer Price Index for the 21st Century.

As we first reported in December 2019, CNSTAT convened an expert panel to study the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In our update in August 2021, we shared the panel membership and described the public meetings where the panel gathered information for its report. Now that the panel has completed its report, we share our plans to address their recommendations:

  • Adopt an alternative data strategy that significantly expands the use of new data sources and collection methods.
  • Improve the timeliness and quality of market basket weights in the CPI.
  • Continue research to enhance and inform the public’s understanding of consumer price change for shelter and medical care.
  • Calculate income-based CPIs and address methodology limitations.
  • Collaborate across the federal and international statistical system.

Use Alternative Data Sources

The chapter on modernizing elementary indexes focused on alternative data sources. Using data from sources beyond traditional surveys is a theme throughout the report. The recommendation to develop a household scanner data program would be a long-term strategy to address many challenges of calculating an accurate and timely CPI. BLS agrees with the panel to seek new data sources to improve every aspect of price index calculation: prices, expenditures (including the quantities purchased), quality adjustment, modeling, estimation, and imputation. Doing so will enable BLS to improve and expand the data we produce and provide users the data they need when they need it.

Even before the CNSTAT report, BLS has been busy building a pipeline of alternative data sources and improving our estimation methods for the CPI. Increasing the focus on alternative data should generate a steady flow of new data sources. This focus also will improve our ability to collect data through a variety of methods and give us new opportunities to address quality change. Consistent with our values to provide accessible information, we will keep you informed about new data sources and methods through the BLS website.

Improve Timeliness and Quality of Market Basket Weights

Beginning in January 2023, BLS plans to update market basket weights in the CPI annually, using 1 year of data. This change will immediately improve the timeliness of the market basket. BLS will continue our efforts to collect and process data more quickly to calculate the CPI using the most recent spending information.

BLS uses several data sources to adjust data collected in the Consumer Expenditure Surveys to calculate the CPI market basket weights. BLS will analyze the feasibility of using business data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis to adjust for categories consumers are reluctant to report, such as alcohol and tobacco. BLS plans to research alternative data sources to improve expenditure estimates when information from respondents is missing or aggregated.

BLS continues to believe collecting data directly from consumers is important to achieve our measurement objective. We are conducting research on a Household Cost Index, which requires household-level expenditure estimates to calculate household-specific indexes. As the panel notes, indexes for specific populations also require linking expenditures with information about households. Given current resources, we do not plan to expand our use of data from other sources in the next few years to supplement data collected in the Consumer Expenditure Surveys. In the future, BLS could pursue a household scanner data program to address the concerns the panel raises regarding the Consumer Expenditure Surveys.

Modernize Shelter

BLS is exploring alternative data sources to supplement rents collected in our housing survey and improve imputation of rental equivalence estimates for owner-occupied housing . We will continue to produce research indexes that meet user needs. BLS plans to publish research on a rent index focused on new tenants. Future research will target alternatives to rent data as a proxy for rental equivalence in predominantly owner-occupied areas and alternatives to the rental equivalence approach for high-end properties.

All BLS consumer indexes currently use a rental equivalence approach to target a cost-of-living measurement objective. Research indexes based on occupancy (renter and owner) will provide users with more insight. Some users need indexes for certain populations. As already mentioned, BLS will continue to research a Household Cost Index that uses a payments approach for owner-occupied housing. Some of these research indexes may ultimately be “promoted” to official status.

Modernize Medical Care

BLS uses an indirect method to price health insurance because directly pricing health insurance premiums is difficult. We have confirmed the retained earnings data incorporate rebates and will pursue further improvements to the indirect approach. We are pursuing implementation of claims data for physician’s and hospital outpatient services and will monitor hospital price transparency data as a possible data source in the future. Research comparing the indirect and direct methods is well underway and will be published initially as a research paper.

Calculate Supplemental Population Price Indexes

BLS continues research on producing price indexes by income groups. While BLS recognizes the limited benefit of reweighting the market basket to create indexes for particular population groups, we believe indexes for renters and owners will provide more insight into measuring price change for shelter. BLS will continue to seek cost-effective methods to study household behaviors and seek resources to collect household scanner data linked with demographics.

Collaborate with Other Statistical Organizations

Another theme throughout the report is communication and collaboration among statistical agencies. The panel recommended expanding collaboration, especially in research and data sharing. As the complexity of data sources and methods increases, BLS also needs to communicate with stakeholders to maintain transparency. Our practice is to announce on the BLS website in advance any changes to our data sources or methods. We will continue to share research index results to document the impact of these changes. BLS is looking into new ways of sharing data and improving transparency.

We value our partnerships with other agencies in the federal and international statistical community. In June 2022, we will share the CNSTAT recommendations with the Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee and discuss our plans. We will continue to seek out new opportunities to connect and collaborate with colleagues in the government, academic, and private sectors as we improve our statistics. We also will ensure our staff has the skills to innovate the modern methods of the future. In the last few years, BLS developed an in-house Data Science Training Program designed to bring awareness and improve the skills of BLS staff in key areas of data science. This annual program introduces a new cohort of BLS staff to these concepts, with plans to scale for larger cohorts in the future and include more specialized learning streams.

It is an exciting time to produce economic statistics. Their importance is paramount, and the opportunities have expanded to improve their accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. The CNSTAT’s latest report on the CPI is a valuable guide to help us keep improving and continue to produce gold standard data well into the future.

Measuring Changes in Shelter Prices in the Consumer Price Index

Shelter costs are the largest regular expense for most households. That makes them a topic of considerable interest to users of Consumer Price Index (CPI) data. The U.S. city average for shelter increased 5.1 percent from April 2021 to April 2022. Its two main components, owners’ equivalent rent of residences and rent of primary residence, each increased 4.8 over the year. (Lodging away from home is the other component of shelter, and lodging prices rose 19.7 percent from April 2021 to April 2022.)

Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, all items and shelter, January 2012 to April 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Because of their large weight in the CPI market basket—nearly a third—the indexes for owners’ equivalent rent and rent can have a large impact on the overall inflation estimate. There is also a lot of misunderstanding about these shelter indexes, and so it is worth taking a few minutes to get a clear understanding of what they measure.

Owners’ equivalent rent is the larger of these two components, at nearly one quarter of the consumer market basket, or weight, in the CPI. It represents the implicit amount an owner of a housing unit would have to pay in rent to live in the unit, assuming it was leased instead of owned. The expenditure weight for owners’ equivalent rent in the CPI is based on a question in the Consumer Expenditure Survey. That question asks homeowners, “If someone were to rent your home today, how much do you think it would rent for monthly, unfurnished and without utilities?” The role of this question can be easily misunderstood by even sophisticated users of BLS data. That has contributed to a common misconception: the mistaken belief that the price observations used for owners’ equivalent rent in the CPI are also from homeowner estimates of their home’s rental value. In fact, the sample of prices used in the owners’ equivalent rent index comes from observations of rent collected in our monthly survey of housing prices, but with utilities and other similar charges removed.

Why don’t we just measure changes in home values in the CPI? It’s because a home isn’t just a consumption item for the owner. It is also an investment, often the largest investment many people will make in their lives. The concept in the CPI—and in the economic statistics programs of most other nations—is to treat owned housing as a capital or investment good, distinct from the shelter service it provides. We treat spending to buy and improve houses and other housing units as investment and not consumption in the CPI. Mortgage interest costs, property taxes, real estate fees, most maintenance, and all improvement costs are part of the cost of the capital good and are also not treated as consumption items. These nonconsumption costs of owned housing are out of scope for the CPI under the cost-of-living framework that guides the index.

Some people have noted that the CPI index for rent (which represents just over 7 percent of the weight of the CPI) is not rising as fast as some other measures, notably those published by firms in the real estate industry. One reason for this is that over 80 percent of rental units in the CPI sample each period have tenants who continue to rent the same unit. Landlords often raise rents when a unit is vacated by a prior tenant and a new tenant moves in. In some cases, the rent paid by tenants with multi-year leases increases periodically—and automatically, by the CPI itself—through an escalation clause in the lease agreement that cites the CPI for this purpose.

Because rents for existing tenants change in line with the terms of leases and rental agreements, and many leases are for 12 months, existing tenants typically do not face price change within the 12-month period of the lease. This is called a “sticky” price. Because of this, the process used to calculate the indexes for rent and owners’ equivalent rent differs from the process used to calculate the rest of the CPI. Most prices are collected either monthly or every 2 months, but rent prices are collected every 6 months. In effect, this means price increases for shelter can sometimes take longer to appear in the CPI than in some other data sources.

We are always working to improve the accuracy of the CPI, and that includes our shelter indexes. We asked for expert opinion from the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on National Statistics, on better ways to measure price change for these important items. The committee recently published their report, “Modernizing the Consumer Price Index for the 21st Century.” The report endorsed the use of owners’ equivalent rent in the CPI and recommended that, “BLS should continue using rental equivalence as the primary approach to estimating the price of housing services for owner-occupied units.”

I will say more about the report from the Committee on National Statistics soon. In the meantime, we will consider all the recommendations of this distinguished group as we plan future improvements to the CPI.

You can read more about shelter in our factsheet for rent and owners’ equivalent rent. We also have more technical details in the Handbook of Methods.

Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, all items and shelter, January 2012 to April 2022
MonthAll itemsShelterRent of primary residenceOwners’ equivalent rent of residences

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Measuring Consumer Prices for New Vehicles More Accurately

In May 2020, we announced a new research index designed to improve the way we measure consumer price changes for new vehicles. Part of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) program, the research index uses transaction data on vehicle purchases. BLS obtains the data from J.D. Power. After carefully studying the data, we now plan to implement the new data source into the official CPI, effective with the April 2022 release, which we will publish on May 11, 2022. We also will update Measuring Price Change in the CPI: New vehicles factsheet at that time.

The research index departs from the traditional survey methods and data sources we have used in the CPI. The traditional methods sample vehicle dealers and the makes, models, and features of the vehicles they sell. That’s why we took a very deliberate approach before we incorporated the new data into the official CPI. We discuss details of our methods and research in “A New Vehicles Transaction Price Index: Offsetting the Effects of Price Discrimination and Product Cycle Bias with a Year-Over-Year Index.”

Leading up to March 2020, the movements of the research index for new vehicles were similar to the official index for new vehicles. Since March 2020, the indexes began to diverge, with the research index showing faster price increases that the official index did not reflect.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, the economy experienced significant disruption. This is especially true of the automobile industry, which saw fluctuations in the supply chain, employment, and consumer demand. Combining these shifts in the economy with the changes in methods represented by the research index made it challenging to assess our results.

While the research index and the official new vehicles index maintained similar trends, the recent divergence between them provided an opportunity to assess the robustness of the two approaches.

We weighed several factors in deciding whether to incorporate the J.D Power data on new vehicle prices into the official CPI. The new data include records of the prices paid during hundreds of thousands of transactions each month. That dwarfs the roughly 500 prices collected using traditional CPI methods. The larger dataset allows us to estimate price changes more precisely. As a result, the research index has a much lower standard error than the official new vehicles index.

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Because the research data reflect actual transactions, the shift in consumer preference from cars to other types of vehicles, such as trucks, is built into the data. This differs from the official index, which has maintained a roughly equal weight between cars and trucks.

In addition to the quantitative evaluations, BLS continued to ask for feedback on the research index through our website and by consulting with other statistical agencies. We received positive feedback and no major concerns, and we remain confident the research index is statistically sound. For these reasons, we have decided to incorporate the new data source and methods for new vehicles in the official CPI.

In some ways, the past 2 years have been an unprecedented time for statistical measurement, but in other ways business at BLS has continued as usual. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, BLS ceased in-person data collection for the CPI and other programs. We collected more data online, by telephone, and through video. While the pandemic affected data collection, we continue to publish data on schedule. We also continue to assess our methods and seek ways to improve the quality of our data. Improving our methods for collecting price data for new vehicles is another step forward in innovating and improving the CPI.

Comparison of research index and official index for new vehicle prices
MonthResearch indexOfficial index

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Comparison of 12-month standard errors for the research index and official index for new vehicle prices
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How Timing and World Events Affect Price Statistics

Rising prices have certainly been in the news lately, and we have received a lot of questions about BLS price statistics. Some questions, however, are “evergreen.” Even in times of moderate price changes, BLS staff often hear that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) doesn’t reflect an individual’s experience. We address this concern and a wide range of other issues in our Questions and Answers about the CPI:

Q. Whose buying habits does the CPI reflect?

A. The CPI does not necessarily measure your own experience with price change. It is important to understand that BLS bases the market baskets and pricing procedures for the CPI-U and CPI-W populations on the experience of the relevant average household, not of any specific family or individual. For example, if you spend a larger-than-average share of your budget on medical expenses, and medical care costs are increasing more rapidly than the cost of other items in the CPI market basket, your personal rate of inflation may exceed the increase in the CPI. Conversely, if you heat your home with solar energy, and fuel prices are rising more rapidly than other items, you may experience less inflation than the general population does. A national average reflects millions of individual price experiences; it seldom mirrors a particular consumer’s experience.

Beyond the differences in individual spending habits, price statistics are affected by a variety of factors, including world events and the timing of price data collection. To explore these factors, we will look beyond the CPI to all BLS price indexes. We’ll focus on the price of oil and related items. Let’s start with a reminder of what is included in the BLS family of price indexes and look at how oil-related prices changed in March.

  • The Consumer Price Index measures the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.
    • The CPI for gasoline (all types) rose 18.3 percent in March and 48.0 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The CPI for energy rose 11.0 percent in March and 32.0 percent over the last 12 months.
  • The Producer Price Index (PPI) measures the average change over time in the selling prices domestic producers receive for their output.
    • The PPI for crude petroleum rose 7.2 percent in March and 62.2 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The PPI for petroleum refineries rose 17.0 percent in March and 62.1 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The PPI for fuels and lubricants retailing rose 22.7 percent in March and 40.0 percent over the last 12 months.
  • The Import and Export Price Indexes show changes in prices of nonmilitary goods and services traded between the United States and the rest of the world.
    • The Import Price Index for crude petroleum rose 15.6 percent in March and 62.0 percent over the last 12 months.
    • The Export Price Index for crude petroleum rose 19.1 percent in March. (This is a new measure, and we haven’t yet tracked it over 12 months.)

National or international events, whether started by Mother Nature or human action, affect the prices businesses and consumers pay for goods and services. We’ve seen this in the past with weather disruptions, such as hurricanes along the Gulf Coast that shut down oil drilling and refining. Current prices may be influenced by the war in Ukraine, the embargo on Russian oil, and other events around the world.

We can see the influence of these events in price changes throughout the production and distribution of oil-related goods and services. BLS estimates the changes in the prices that domestic producers receive through the PPI; this includes petroleum-related industries such as drillers and refiners and the margins on gasoline station sales. Gasoline retailers make money on the margins of their sales—the difference between how much they pay for the fuel they buy from wholesalers and the prices they receive from consumers. Margins for gas stations typically decline when oil prices increase. To learn more, see “As crude oil plunges, retail gasoline margins spike, then retreat.”

Some domestic producers import oil rather than purchase it domestically, and the Import Price Index reflects changes in prices they pay. Some domestic producers also export petroleum-related products, which is captured in Export Price Indexes. Ultimately, consumers purchase gasoline, home heating oil, and other petroleum-based products, and often producers pass price changes on to consumers. Thus, an increase in oil prices can result in higher costs at the pump, more expensive airline fares, and price increases for goods transported by trucks. The CPI reflects these higher prices consumers may face.

The price of oil and related products can change rapidly, adding to the challenges of collecting and publishing timely price statistics. Ideally, BLS would collect prices throughout the month for all goods and services in all price indexes. While that is a long-term goal, it is not simple to implement. Currently, BLS identifies the official “pricing date” for each index, as follows:

  • We collect prices for the CPI throughout the month, with each outlet (such as a gas station) assigned one of three pricing periods, which roughly correspond to the first 10 days, second 10 days, and third 10 days of the month. Once established, prices are updated each month during the same pricing period.
  • We collect prices for most items in the PPI as of the Tuesday of the week containing the thirteenth day of the month. This is the case for the petroleum-related items. (Some items in the PPI have prices collected throughout the month.)
  • We obtain import price data for petroleum from the U.S. Department of Energy. We obtain export price data for petroleum from secondary source market prices. These data represent a weighted average of imported and exported oil throughout the month.

Let’s look at the price of oil over the past few months and how the BLS pricing dates might affect the price indexes.

Daily price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude, January to March 2022

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

The chart shows the volatility of the oil prices, particularly in March. When the February CPI was released on March 10, West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil prices had already soared from $96 per barrel on the last day of February to over $123 two days before the CPI release. While consumers were feeling the pinch at the pump, this steep rise was not reflected in the February CPI data. Similarly, both the February and March PPI price dates (February 15 and March 15) missed the large run-up in oil prices in the first week of March. The Import Price Index, Export Price Index, and CPI did include the highest prices seen in early March, however.

BLS price indexes represent averages—average selections of goods and services, average weights, and typically average time periods. Over time, these indexes provide an accurate view of price change throughout the economy. But during periods of rapidly changing world events, and corresponding rapid changes in the price of individual commodities (and oil in particular), the index pricing periods may miss unusual highs and lows.

Daily price per barrel of West Texas Intermediate Crude, January to March 2022
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