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Tag Archives: Consumer Price Index

Providing Context for Recent Increases in Gasoline Prices

If you’ve filled your car’s gas tank recently, you may have been surprised at how much more gas costs than it did just a few months ago or in early 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. In recent months, gasoline prices have increased sharply and have pushed up overall consumer inflation. We documented the dramatic price declines for petroleum products that occurred in early 2020 in a recent Monthly Labor Review article. The article also documented the partial recovery in prices last summer.

Let’s now look at what has happened with oil and gas prices since we published that article. We’ll see that gasoline prices mostly just recovered from the steep declines experienced early in the pandemic.

The following chart shows the monthly percent change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for gasoline and for all items since October 2020.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes, October 2020 to March 2021

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

After smaller increases in October and November, the CPI gasoline index rose much more rapidly in December and the first 3 months of 2021. Overall, in the 4 months from November to March, gasoline prices increased about 31 percent. Over the same 4 months, the CPI for all items increased 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the increase in gasoline prices as measured by the Producer Price Index (PPI) has been larger than the increase in consumer prices. In the last 4 months, the PPI gasoline index increased about 58 percent.

The following chart shows the change in the CPI and PPI gasoline indexes since January 2020.

Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

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

Gasoline prices fell sharply at the start of the pandemic and then partially rebounded through the summer of 2020. The prices that gasoline producers received declined much more at the start of the pandemic than did the prices consumers paid. Producer prices also were slower to recover than consumer prices. The recent increase in gasoline prices continued the recovery from the sharp declines at the start of the pandemic. Through February 2021, consumer prices for gasoline were still down 2.8 percent from January 2020. Producer prices for gasoline had fully recovered the pandemic-related declines by February 2021 and were back to January 2020 levels. In March 2021, consumer and producer prices for gasoline rose sharply and were above their January 2020 levels.

The differences between consumer and producer gasoline prices can be partly explained by larger margins for fuel retailers. Gasoline retailers are often slower to pass increases or decreases in their purchase costs on to consumers because they are uncertain about future costs and because of competition in the retail gasoline market. The PPI for “automotive fuels and lubricants retailing” measures the margin for gasoline retailers. The chart below shows that this margin increased sharply in March and April 2020 when oil prices dropped. The margin then decreased over the summer months as oil prices increased. In March 2021, retail gasoline margins were still 16.6 percent above January 2020 levels, in seasonally unadjusted terms.

Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing, January 2020 to March 2021

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

Gasoline prices tend to be volatile, and large moves, such as this winter’s, occur often. Consumer gasoline prices rose 24.7 percent in the first 3 months of 2021. Since 2001, the CPI gasoline index has had six increases that large or larger in 3 months. The most recent instance of a larger increase over 3 months was a 26.4-percent increase from May to August 2009.

Over the past 4 months, the sharp rise in gasoline prices has contributed to increasing overall prices as measured by the CPI for all items. In each of the last 4 months, half or more of the monthly increase in the all-items index was due to the increase in gasoline prices. This means that, if the price of gasoline had been unchanged in each of these months, the overall CPI would have increased by less than half of the 1.5-percent increase over this period.

One way to strip out the effects of gasoline prices on overall prices is to look at prices for all items less energy. The following chart shows the monthly change in the CPI for all item and the CPI for all items less energy.

Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted, January 2020 to March 2021

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

From July through December 2020, the indexes moved similarly each month. That means energy price changes were close to the price changes of other items. The two indexes have diverged in the last 3 months, however, with the index for all items less energy increasing much less than the index for all items.

Crude oil prices have a large effect on gasoline prices. The following chart shows the changes in the PPI for crude petroleum and in the Import Price Index for crude petroleum since January 2020. The PPI measures price changes for domestic producers of crude oil, while the Import Price Index tracks price changes for oil purchased from foreign producers.

Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum, January 2020 to March 2021

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

Overall, producer prices and import prices for crude oil track closely together. Both declined sharply as the COVID-19 pandemic began and partly recovered through the early fall. From November 2020 to March 2021, both had large increases—60.3 percent for the PPI and 46.5 percent for import prices—and now exceed their January 2020 levels.

Market analysis by the Energy Information Administration identifies several contributors to recent oil and gas price increases. One is optimism over the economic recovery from the pandemic and expectations of increased energy demand as more people receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Another is the continued cooperation among members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing countries to limit crude oil production. Finally, in February, weather-related supply disruptions also contributed to price increases.

Although gasoline prices have increased sharply in recent months and have contributed to increases in overall consumer prices, gasoline prices are only just recovering January 2020 levels. Gasoline makes up only about 3 percent of the market basket for the CPI, and its share has been declining. Gasoline still is an important driver of changes in the overall index because of frequent large fluctuations in gas prices. Price changes in gasoline and crude oil can also affect the prices of other items because gas and oil are important for producing many goods and services.

Consumer Price Index for all items and for gasoline (all types), seasonally adjusted monthly percent changes
MonthGasoline, all typesAll items

Oct 2020

0.70.1

Nov 2020

0.50.2

Dec 2020

5.20.2

Jan 2021

7.40.3

Feb 2021

6.40.4

Mar 2021

9.10.6
Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index for gasoline, seasonally adjusted
MonthCPI for gasolinePPI for gasoline

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

95.76697.003

Mar 2020

86.60471.609

Apr 2020

69.95532.440

May 2020

66.51844.322

Jun 2020

73.41061.409

Jul 2020

76.92866.193

Aug 2020

78.57667.192

Sep 2020

79.89167.613

Oct 2020

80.48268.559

Nov 2020

80.86669.085

Dec 2020

85.06678.181

Jan 2021

91.36488.801

Feb 2021

97.221100.421

Mar 2021

106.070109.253
Producer Price Index for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing
MonthIndex

Jan 2020

100.000

Feb 2020

102.652

Mar 2020

127.281

Apr 2020

169.753

May 2020

154.292

Jun 2020

135.506

Jul 2020

128.449

Aug 2020

124.180

Sep 2020

127.506

Oct 2020

129.438

Nov 2020

127.416

Dec 2020

118.292

Jan 2021

121.798

Feb 2021

118.292

Mar 2021

116.629
Consumer Price Index, 1-month percent change, seasonally adjusted
MonthAll itemsAll items less energy

Jan 2020

0.20.2

Feb 2020

0.10.2

Mar 2020

-0.30.0

Apr 2020

-0.7-0.1

May 2020

-0.10.0

Jun 2020

0.50.3

Jul 2020

0.50.4

Aug 2020

0.40.3

Sep 2020

0.20.2

Oct 2020

0.10.1

Nov 2020

0.20.1

Dec 2020

0.20.1

Jan 2021

0.30.0

Feb 2021

0.40.1

Mar 2021

0.60.3
Producer and import price indexes for crude petroleum
MonthProducer Price Index for crude petroleumImport Price Index for crude petroleum

Jan 2020

100.000100.000

Feb 2020

85.69689.067

Mar 2020

56.58558.776

Apr 2020

28.98637.212

May 2020

39.38244.333

Jun 2020

59.42058.977

Jul 2020

63.01271.615

Aug 2020

65.78473.621

Sep 2020

63.70569.509

Oct 2020

64.77669.408

Nov 2020

67.29772.116

Dec 2020

79.89979.840

Jan 2021

89.47787.563

Feb 2021

97.16498.897

Mar 2021

107.876105.617

Looking Back on the 2020 U.S. Labor Market and Economy

I know many of us are glad to see 2020 in the rearview mirror and have higher hopes for 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused so much suffering and hardship for people in the United States and around the world. During these challenging times, it remains important to have good, reliable, timely data. Good data are essential for the public health response to the pandemic and for tracking its economic and social effects, as well as the progress toward recovery. Let’s reflect back on some of the historic measures we saw in 2020.

Throughout the pandemic, the BLS staff and our colleagues across the statistical community have remained on the job to meet the growing needs for high-quality data. We are thankful we have been able to keep working; millions of other people haven’t been so fortunate. In part this is due to the way our work life at BLS changed in 2020. Nearly the entire staff has teleworked full time since March. That means we have needed to figure out new ways to collaborate with each other to continue producing essential data about the economy. That change in work life also meant that many staff members faced the challenges of new care arrangements for young children, schooling—often online—for older children, and keeping all their loved ones safe and healthy.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, many consumers began avoiding stores, restaurants, and other public gatherings to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Many businesses and other organizations reduced their operations or closed completely. At the recommendation of public health authorities, many governors and other public leaders issued stay-at-home orders. The economic impact of COVID-19 was breathtaking in its speed and severity.

National employment data. The nation experienced steady employment growth in recent years; BLS recorded average monthly increases in nonfarm employment between about 170,000 and 200,000 from 2016 to 2019. January and February 2020 brought continued job gains before the bottom dropped out in March (down 1.7 million jobs) and especially in April (down 20.7 million). These were the two largest declines in history, dating to 1939. These declines were then followed by the 4 largest increases in history: 2.8 million, 4.8 million, 1.7 million, and 1.5 million. You have to go back to 1983 to find the next highest increase, 1,118,000. Employment in December 2020 was nearly 10 million lower than in February.

Nonfarm payroll employment, January 1970–December 2020

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

National unemployment data. The year started with some record-low unemployment rates. The 3.5-percent unemployment rate in both January and February 2020 tied for the lowest rate since December 1969 (also 3.5 percent). The unemployment rates for several demographic groups were at or near their record lows. For example, the unemployment rate for African Americans in February 2020, at 6.0 percent, was close to the all-time low of 5.2 percent in August 2019.

Then came the pandemic in March 2020. The unemployment rate that month rose 0.9 percentage point to 4.4 percent. In April, the unemployment rate increased by 10.4 percentage points to 14.8 percent, the highest rate and largest one-month increase in history (dating to January 1948). Nearly all demographic groups experienced record-high unemployment rates in April; for example, the rate for Hispanics was a record 18.9 percent, after a record low of 4.0 percent in September 2019. And for the first time since data became available for both groups in 1973, the unemployment rate for Hispanics in April 2020 exceeded the rate for African Americans.

Unemployment rates for selected groups, February, April, and December 2020

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

State unemployment data. We see a similar pattern when looking at state unemployment rates, with record-setting lows early in 2020 followed by record-setting highs. In February, state unemployment rates ranged from a low of 2.2 percent in North Dakota to a high of 5.8 percent in Alaska, with 12 states at their historic lows that month. By April, rates had increased in all states, with 40 states and the District of Columbia setting new highs in that month, and another 7 states cresting in subsequent months. (The state data began in 1976.) State unemployment rates in April ranged from 8.3 percent in Connecticut to 30.1 percent in Nevada. Check out our animated map showing the rapid transformation of state unemployment rates.

Consumer price data. Beyond the job market, the pandemic had a big effect on other aspects of everyday life, including consumers’ buying habits. Toilet paper and wipes were disappearing from store shelves, while fewer people were commuting or traveling. Those trends were reflected in rapid changes in consumer prices.

One-month changes in the Consumer Price Index are typically 0.1 or 0.2 percent; the 0.8 percent decrease in April 2020, was the largest monthly decline since December 2008. The overall change included some large movements in both directions. For example, the price of gasoline declined 20.6 percent in April, the largest one-month decline since November 2008. In contrast, prices for food at home rose by 2.6 percent, the largest monthly increase since February 1974. Looking below the surface even further, several items experienced record one-month price changes, with some records going back over 50 years.

Percent change in consumer prices for selected items in April 2020, seasonally adjusted

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

Labor Productivity data. The BLS quarterly measure of labor productivity in the nonfarm business sector compares output to hours worked. If output rises more than hours worked, productivity increases. The pandemic saw large declines in both output and hours starting in mid-March. There was a small decline in labor productivity in the first quarter of 2020, down 0.3 percent, as output declined (-6.4 percent) slightly more than hours worked (-6.1 percent). While we had not experienced declining productivity in nearly 3 years, small increases or decreases in the quarterly change are common. The second quarter saw labor productivity soar by 10.6 percent, the largest increase since 1971, when productivity increased 12.3 percent in the first quarter. The second quarter 2020 increase reflected a greater decline in hours worked (-42.9 percent) than in output (-36.8 percent).

Since its beginnings in 1884, BLS has built consistent data to allow comparisons across the decades. Maintaining this history allows data users to quickly learn “when was the last time.” We also have collected and published new data specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic. Still to come, BLS will release more 2020 data in the coming year. Those new results will add to the unique story of the extraordinary 2020 economy.

Nonfarm payroll employment, January 1970–December 2020
MonthEmployment levelOver-the-month change

Jan 1970

71,176,000-65,000

Feb 1970

71,305,000129,000

Mar 1970

71,451,000146,000

Apr 1970

71,348,000-103,000

May 1970

71,124,000-224,000

Jun 1970

71,029,000-95,000

Jul 1970

71,053,00024,000

Aug 1970

70,937,000-116,000

Sep 1970

70,944,0007,000

Oct 1970

70,521,000-423,000

Nov 1970

70,409,000-112,000

Dec 1970

70,792,000383,000

Jan 1971

70,865,00073,000

Feb 1971

70,807,000-58,000

Mar 1971

70,860,00053,000

Apr 1971

71,036,000176,000

May 1971

71,247,000211,000

Jun 1971

71,254,0007,000

Jul 1971

71,315,00061,000

Aug 1971

71,373,00058,000

Sep 1971

71,614,000241,000

Oct 1971

71,642,00028,000

Nov 1971

71,847,000205,000

Dec 1971

72,109,000262,000

Jan 1972

72,441,000332,000

Feb 1972

72,648,000207,000

Mar 1972

72,944,000296,000

Apr 1972

73,162,000218,000

May 1972

73,469,000307,000

Jun 1972

73,758,000289,000

Jul 1972

73,709,000-49,000

Aug 1972

74,141,000432,000

Sep 1972

74,264,000123,000

Oct 1972

74,674,000410,000

Nov 1972

74,973,000299,000

Dec 1972

75,268,000295,000

Jan 1973

75,617,000349,000

Feb 1973

76,014,000397,000

Mar 1973

76,284,000270,000

Apr 1973

76,455,000171,000

May 1973

76,648,000193,000

Jun 1973

76,887,000239,000

Jul 1973

76,913,00026,000

Aug 1973

77,168,000255,000

Sep 1973

77,276,000108,000

Oct 1973

77,607,000331,000

Nov 1973

77,920,000313,000

Dec 1973

78,031,000111,000

Jan 1974

78,100,00069,000

Feb 1974

78,254,000154,000

Mar 1974

78,296,00042,000

Apr 1974

78,382,00086,000

May 1974

78,549,000167,000

Jun 1974

78,604,00055,000

Jul 1974

78,636,00032,000

Aug 1974

78,619,000-17,000

Sep 1974

78,610,000-9,000

Oct 1974

78,630,00020,000

Nov 1974

78,265,000-365,000

Dec 1974

77,652,000-613,000

Jan 1975

77,293,000-359,000

Feb 1975

76,918,000-375,000

Mar 1975

76,648,000-270,000

Apr 1975

76,460,000-188,000

May 1975

76,624,000164,000

Jun 1975

76,521,000-103,000

Jul 1975

76,770,000249,000

Aug 1975

77,153,000383,000

Sep 1975

77,228,00075,000

Oct 1975

77,540,000312,000

Nov 1975

77,685,000145,000

Dec 1975

78,017,000332,000

Jan 1976

78,503,000486,000

Feb 1976

78,816,000313,000

Mar 1976

79,048,000232,000

Apr 1976

79,292,000244,000

May 1976

79,312,00020,000

Jun 1976

79,376,00064,000

Jul 1976

79,547,000171,000

Aug 1976

79,704,000157,000

Sep 1976

79,892,000188,000

Oct 1976

79,911,00019,000

Nov 1976

80,240,000329,000

Dec 1976

80,448,000208,000

Jan 1977

80,690,000242,000

Feb 1977

80,988,000298,000

Mar 1977

81,391,000403,000

Apr 1977

81,728,000337,000

May 1977

82,088,000360,000

Jun 1977

82,488,000400,000

Jul 1977

82,834,000346,000

Aug 1977

83,075,000241,000

Sep 1977

83,532,000457,000

Oct 1977

83,800,000268,000

Nov 1977

84,173,000373,000

Dec 1977

84,410,000237,000

Jan 1978

84,594,000184,000

Feb 1978

84,948,000354,000

Mar 1978

85,460,000512,000

Apr 1978

86,162,000702,000

May 1978

86,509,000347,000

Jun 1978

86,950,000441,000

Jul 1978

87,204,000254,000

Aug 1978

87,483,000279,000

Sep 1978

87,621,000138,000

Oct 1978

87,956,000335,000

Nov 1978

88,391,000435,000

Dec 1978

88,671,000280,000

Jan 1979

88,808,000137,000

Feb 1979

89,055,000247,000

Mar 1979

89,479,000424,000

Apr 1979

89,417,000-62,000

May 1979

89,789,000372,000

Jun 1979

90,108,000319,000

Jul 1979

90,217,000109,000

Aug 1979

90,300,00083,000

Sep 1979

90,327,00027,000

Oct 1979

90,481,000154,000

Nov 1979

90,573,00092,000

Dec 1979

90,672,00099,000

Jan 1980

90,800,000128,000

Feb 1980

90,883,00083,000

Mar 1980

90,994,000111,000

Apr 1980

90,849,000-145,000

May 1980

90,420,000-429,000

Jun 1980

90,101,000-319,000

Jul 1980

89,840,000-261,000

Aug 1980

90,099,000259,000

Sep 1980

90,213,000114,000

Oct 1980

90,490,000277,000

Nov 1980

90,747,000257,000

Dec 1980

90,943,000196,000

Jan 1981

91,033,00090,000

Feb 1981

91,105,00072,000

Mar 1981

91,210,000105,000

Apr 1981

91,283,00073,000

May 1981

91,296,00013,000

Jun 1981

91,490,000194,000

Jul 1981

91,601,000111,000

Aug 1981

91,565,000-36,000

Sep 1981

91,477,000-88,000

Oct 1981

91,380,000-97,000

Nov 1981

91,171,000-209,000

Dec 1981

90,895,000-276,000

Jan 1982

90,565,000-330,000

Feb 1982

90,563,000-2,000

Mar 1982

90,434,000-129,000

Apr 1982

90,150,000-284,000

May 1982

90,107,000-43,000

Jun 1982

89,865,000-242,000

Jul 1982

89,521,000-344,000

Aug 1982

89,363,000-158,000

Sep 1982

89,183,000-180,000

Oct 1982

88,907,000-276,000

Nov 1982

88,786,000-121,000

Dec 1982

88,771,000-15,000

Jan 1983

88,990,000219,000

Feb 1983

88,917,000-73,000

Mar 1983

89,090,000173,000

Apr 1983

89,364,000274,000

May 1983

89,644,000280,000

Jun 1983

90,021,000377,000

Jul 1983

90,437,000416,000

Aug 1983

90,129,000-308,000

Sep 1983

91,247,0001,118,000

Oct 1983

91,520,000273,000

Nov 1983

91,875,000355,000

Dec 1983

92,230,000355,000

Jan 1984

92,673,000443,000

Feb 1984

93,157,000484,000

Mar 1984

93,429,000272,000

Apr 1984

93,792,000363,000

May 1984

94,098,000306,000

Jun 1984

94,479,000381,000

Jul 1984

94,789,000310,000

Aug 1984

95,032,000243,000

Sep 1984

95,344,000312,000

Oct 1984

95,629,000285,000

Nov 1984

95,982,000353,000

Dec 1984

96,107,000125,000

Jan 1985

96,372,000265,000

Feb 1985

96,503,000131,000

Mar 1985

96,842,000339,000

Apr 1985

97,038,000196,000

May 1985

97,312,000274,000

Jun 1985

97,459,000147,000

Jul 1985

97,648,000189,000

Aug 1985

97,840,000192,000

Sep 1985

98,045,000205,000

Oct 1985

98,233,000188,000

Nov 1985

98,443,000210,000

Dec 1985

98,609,000166,000

Jan 1986

98,732,000123,000

Feb 1986

98,847,000115,000

Mar 1986

98,934,00087,000

Apr 1986

99,121,000187,000

May 1986

99,248,000127,000

Jun 1986

99,155,000-93,000

Jul 1986

99,473,000318,000

Aug 1986

99,588,000115,000

Sep 1986

99,934,000346,000

Oct 1986

100,121,000187,000

Nov 1986

100,308,000187,000

Dec 1986

100,509,000201,000

Jan 1987

100,678,000169,000

Feb 1987

100,919,000241,000

Mar 1987

101,164,000245,000

Apr 1987

101,499,000335,000

May 1987

101,728,000229,000

Jun 1987

101,900,000172,000

Jul 1987

102,247,000347,000

Aug 1987

102,420,000173,000

Sep 1987

102,647,000227,000

Oct 1987

103,138,000491,000

Nov 1987

103,372,000234,000

Dec 1987

103,661,000289,000

Jan 1988

103,753,00092,000

Feb 1988

104,214,000461,000

Mar 1988

104,489,000275,000

Apr 1988

104,732,000243,000

May 1988

104,962,000230,000

Jun 1988

105,326,000364,000

Jul 1988

105,550,000224,000

Aug 1988

105,674,000124,000

Sep 1988

106,013,000339,000

Oct 1988

106,276,000263,000

Nov 1988

106,617,000341,000

Dec 1988

106,898,000281,000

Jan 1989

107,161,000263,000

Feb 1989

107,427,000266,000

Mar 1989

107,621,000194,000

Apr 1989

107,791,000170,000

May 1989

107,913,000122,000

Jun 1989

108,027,000114,000

Jul 1989

108,069,00042,000

Aug 1989

108,120,00051,000

Sep 1989

108,369,000249,000

Oct 1989

108,476,000107,000

Nov 1989

108,752,000276,000

Dec 1989

108,836,00084,000

Jan 1990

109,199,000363,000

Feb 1990

109,435,000236,000

Mar 1990

109,644,000209,000

Apr 1990

109,686,00042,000

May 1990

109,839,000153,000

Jun 1990

109,856,00017,000

Jul 1990

109,824,000-32,000

Aug 1990

109,616,000-208,000

Sep 1990

109,518,000-98,000

Oct 1990

109,367,000-151,000

Nov 1990

109,214,000-153,000

Dec 1990

109,166,000-48,000

Jan 1991

109,055,000-111,000

Feb 1991

108,734,000-321,000

Mar 1991

108,574,000-160,000

Apr 1991

108,364,000-210,000

May 1991

108,249,000-115,000

Jun 1991

108,334,00085,000

Jul 1991

108,292,000-42,000

Aug 1991

108,310,00018,000

Sep 1991

108,336,00026,000

Oct 1991

108,357,00021,000

Nov 1991

108,296,000-61,000

Dec 1991

108,328,00032,000

Jan 1992

108,369,00041,000

Feb 1992

108,311,000-58,000

Mar 1992

108,365,00054,000

Apr 1992

108,519,000154,000

May 1992

108,649,000130,000

Jun 1992

108,715,00066,000

Jul 1992

108,793,00078,000

Aug 1992

108,925,000132,000

Sep 1992

108,959,00034,000

Oct 1992

109,139,000180,000

Nov 1992

109,272,000133,000

Dec 1992

109,495,000223,000

Jan 1993

109,794,000299,000

Feb 1993

110,044,000250,000

Mar 1993

109,994,000-50,000

Apr 1993

110,296,000302,000

May 1993

110,568,000272,000

Jun 1993

110,749,000181,000

Jul 1993

111,055,000306,000

Aug 1993

111,206,000151,000

Sep 1993

111,448,000242,000

Oct 1993

111,733,000285,000

Nov 1993

111,984,000251,000

Dec 1993

112,314,000330,000

Jan 1994

112,595,000281,000

Feb 1994

112,781,000186,000

Mar 1994

113,242,000461,000

Apr 1994

113,586,000344,000

May 1994

113,921,000335,000

Jun 1994

114,238,000317,000

Jul 1994

114,610,000372,000

Aug 1994

114,896,000286,000

Sep 1994

115,247,000351,000

Oct 1994

115,458,000211,000

Nov 1994

115,869,000411,000

Dec 1994

116,165,000296,000

Jan 1995

116,501,000336,000

Feb 1995

116,697,000196,000

Mar 1995

116,907,000210,000

Apr 1995

117,069,000162,000

May 1995

117,049,000-20,000

Jun 1995

117,286,000237,000

Jul 1995

117,380,00094,000

Aug 1995

117,634,000254,000

Sep 1995

117,875,000241,000

Oct 1995

118,031,000156,000

Nov 1995

118,175,000144,000

Dec 1995

118,320,000145,000

Jan 1996

118,316,000-4,000

Feb 1996

118,739,000423,000

Mar 1996

118,993,000254,000

Apr 1996

119,158,000165,000

May 1996

119,486,000328,000

Jun 1996

119,769,000283,000

Jul 1996

120,015,000246,000

Aug 1996

120,199,000184,000

Sep 1996

120,410,000211,000

Oct 1996

120,665,000255,000

Nov 1996

120,961,000296,000

Dec 1996

121,143,000182,000

Jan 1997

121,363,000220,000

Feb 1997

121,675,000312,000

Mar 1997

121,990,000315,000

Apr 1997

122,286,000296,000

May 1997

122,546,000260,000

Jun 1997

122,814,000268,000

Jul 1997

123,111,000297,000

Aug 1997

123,093,000-18,000

Sep 1997

123,585,000492,000

Oct 1997

123,929,000344,000

Nov 1997

124,235,000306,000

Dec 1997

124,549,000314,000

Jan 1998

124,812,000263,000

Feb 1998

125,016,000204,000

Mar 1998

125,164,000148,000

Apr 1998

125,442,000278,000

May 1998

125,844,000402,000

Jun 1998

126,076,000232,000

Jul 1998

126,205,000129,000

Aug 1998

126,544,000339,000

Sep 1998

126,752,000208,000

Oct 1998

126,954,000202,000

Nov 1998

127,231,000277,000

Dec 1998

127,596,000365,000

Jan 1999

127,702,000106,000

Feb 1999

128,120,000418,000

Mar 1999

128,227,000107,000

Apr 1999

128,597,000370,000

May 1999

128,808,000211,000

Jun 1999

129,089,000281,000

Jul 1999

129,414,000325,000

Aug 1999

129,569,000155,000

Sep 1999

129,772,000203,000

Oct 1999

130,177,000405,000

Nov 1999

130,466,000289,000

Dec 1999

130,772,000306,000

Jan 2000

131,005,000233,000

Feb 2000

131,124,000119,000

Mar 2000

131,596,000472,000

Apr 2000

131,888,000292,000

May 2000

132,105,000217,000

Jun 2000

132,061,000-44,000

Jul 2000

132,236,000175,000

Aug 2000

132,230,000-6,000

Sep 2000

132,353,000123,000

Oct 2000

132,351,000-2,000

Nov 2000

132,556,000205,000

Dec 2000

132,709,000153,000

Jan 2001

132,698,000-11,000

Feb 2001

132,789,00091,000

Mar 2001

132,747,000-42,000

Apr 2001

132,463,000-284,000

May 2001

132,410,000-53,000

Jun 2001

132,299,000-111,000

Jul 2001

132,177,000-122,000

Aug 2001

132,028,000-149,000

Sep 2001

131,771,000-257,000

Oct 2001

131,454,000-317,000

Nov 2001

131,142,000-312,000

Dec 2001

130,982,000-160,000

Jan 2002

130,852,000-130,000

Feb 2002

130,736,000-116,000

Mar 2002

130,717,000-19,000

Apr 2002

130,623,000-94,000

May 2002

130,634,00011,000

Jun 2002

130,684,00050,000

Jul 2002

130,590,000-94,000

Aug 2002

130,587,000-3,000

Sep 2002

130,501,000-86,000

Oct 2002

130,628,000127,000

Nov 2002

130,615,000-13,000

Dec 2002

130,472,000-143,000

Jan 2003

130,580,000108,000

Feb 2003

130,444,000-136,000

Mar 2003

130,232,000-212,000

Apr 2003

130,177,000-55,000

May 2003

130,196,00019,000

Jun 2003

130,194,000-2,000

Jul 2003

130,191,000-3,000

Aug 2003

130,149,000-42,000

Sep 2003

130,254,000105,000

Oct 2003

130,454,000200,000

Nov 2003

130,474,00020,000

Dec 2003

130,588,000114,000

Jan 2004

130,769,000181,000

Feb 2004

130,825,00056,000

Mar 2004

131,142,000317,000

Apr 2004

131,411,000269,000

May 2004

131,694,000283,000

Jun 2004

131,793,00099,000

Jul 2004

131,848,00055,000

Aug 2004

131,937,00089,000

Sep 2004

132,093,000156,000

Oct 2004

132,447,000354,000

Nov 2004

132,503,00056,000

Dec 2004

132,624,000121,000

Jan 2005

132,774,000150,000

Feb 2005

133,032,000258,000

Mar 2005

133,156,000124,000

Apr 2005

133,518,000362,000

May 2005

133,690,000172,000

Jun 2005

133,942,000252,000

Jul 2005

134,296,000354,000

Aug 2005

134,498,000202,000

Sep 2005

134,566,00068,000

Oct 2005

134,655,00089,000

Nov 2005

134,993,000338,000

Dec 2005

135,149,000156,000

Jan 2006

135,429,000280,000

Feb 2006

135,737,000308,000

Mar 2006

136,047,000310,000

Apr 2006

136,205,000158,000

May 2006

136,244,00039,000

Jun 2006

136,325,00081,000

Jul 2006

136,520,000195,000

Aug 2006

136,694,000174,000

Sep 2006

136,843,000149,000

Oct 2006

136,852,0009,000

Nov 2006

137,063,000211,000

Dec 2006

137,249,000186,000

Jan 2007

137,477,000228,000

Feb 2007

137,558,00081,000

Mar 2007

137,793,000235,000

Apr 2007

137,842,00049,000

May 2007

137,993,000151,000

Jun 2007

138,069,00076,000

Jul 2007

138,038,000-31,000

Aug 2007

138,015,000-23,000

Sep 2007

138,095,00080,000

Oct 2007

138,174,00079,000

Nov 2007

138,284,000110,000

Dec 2007

138,392,000108,000

Jan 2008

138,403,00011,000

Feb 2008

138,324,000-79,000

Mar 2008

138,275,000-49,000

Apr 2008

138,035,000-240,000

May 2008

137,858,000-177,000

Jun 2008

137,687,000-171,000

Jul 2008

137,491,000-196,000

Aug 2008

137,213,000-278,000

Sep 2008

136,753,000-460,000

Oct 2008

136,272,000-481,000

Nov 2008

135,545,000-727,000

Dec 2008

134,839,000-706,000

Jan 2009

134,055,000-784,000

Feb 2009

133,312,000-743,000

Mar 2009

132,512,000-800,000

Apr 2009

131,817,000-695,000

May 2009

131,475,000-342,000

Jun 2009

131,008,000-467,000

Jul 2009

130,668,000-340,000

Aug 2009

130,485,000-183,000

Sep 2009

130,244,000-241,000

Oct 2009

130,045,000-199,000

Nov 2009

130,057,00012,000

Dec 2009

129,788,000-269,000

Jan 2010

129,790,0002,000

Feb 2010

129,698,000-92,000

Mar 2010

129,879,000181,000

Apr 2010

130,110,000231,000

May 2010

130,650,000540,000

Jun 2010

130,511,000-139,000

Jul 2010

130,427,000-84,000

Aug 2010

130,422,000-5,000

Sep 2010

130,357,000-65,000

Oct 2010

130,625,000268,000

Nov 2010

130,750,000125,000

Dec 2010

130,822,00072,000

Jan 2011

130,841,00019,000

Feb 2011

131,053,000212,000

Mar 2011

131,288,000235,000

Apr 2011

131,602,000314,000

May 2011

131,703,000101,000

Jun 2011

131,939,000236,000

Jul 2011

131,999,00060,000

Aug 2011

132,125,000126,000

Sep 2011

132,358,000233,000

Oct 2011

132,562,000204,000

Nov 2011

132,694,000132,000

Dec 2011

132,896,000202,000

Jan 2012

133,250,000354,000

Feb 2012

133,512,000262,000

Mar 2012

133,752,000240,000

Apr 2012

133,834,00082,000

May 2012

133,934,000100,000

Jun 2012

134,007,00073,000

Jul 2012

134,159,000152,000

Aug 2012

134,331,000172,000

Sep 2012

134,518,000187,000

Oct 2012

134,677,000159,000

Nov 2012

134,833,000156,000

Dec 2012

135,072,000239,000

Jan 2013

135,263,000191,000

Feb 2013

135,541,000278,000

Mar 2013

135,680,000139,000

Apr 2013

135,871,000191,000

May 2013

136,093,000222,000

Jun 2013

136,274,000181,000

Jul 2013

136,386,000112,000

Aug 2013

136,628,000242,000

Sep 2013

136,815,000187,000

Oct 2013

137,040,000225,000

Nov 2013

137,304,000264,000

Dec 2013

137,373,00069,000

Jan 2014

137,548,000175,000

Feb 2014

137,714,000166,000

Mar 2014

137,968,000254,000

Apr 2014

138,293,000325,000

May 2014

138,511,000218,000

Jun 2014

138,837,000326,000

Jul 2014

139,069,000232,000

Aug 2014

139,257,000188,000

Sep 2014

139,566,000309,000

Oct 2014

139,818,000252,000

Nov 2014

140,109,000291,000

Dec 2014

140,377,000268,000

Jan 2015

140,568,000191,000

Feb 2015

140,839,000271,000

Mar 2015

140,910,00071,000

Apr 2015

141,194,000284,000

May 2015

141,525,000331,000

Jun 2015

141,699,000174,000

Jul 2015

142,001,000302,000

Aug 2015

142,126,000125,000

Sep 2015

142,281,000155,000

Oct 2015

142,587,000306,000

Nov 2015

142,824,000237,000

Dec 2015

143,097,000273,000

Jan 2016

143,205,000108,000

Feb 2016

143,417,000212,000

Mar 2016

143,654,000237,000

Apr 2016

143,851,000197,000

May 2016

143,892,00041,000

Jun 2016

144,150,000258,000

Jul 2016

144,521,000371,000

Aug 2016

144,664,000143,000

Sep 2016

144,953,000289,000

Oct 2016

145,071,000118,000

Nov 2016

145,201,000130,000

Dec 2016

145,415,000214,000

Jan 2017

145,612,000197,000

Feb 2017

145,795,000183,000

Mar 2017

145,934,000139,000

Apr 2017

146,154,000220,000

May 2017

146,295,000141,000

Jun 2017

146,506,000211,000

Jul 2017

146,734,000228,000

Aug 2017

146,924,000190,000

Sep 2017

146,966,00042,000

Oct 2017

147,215,000249,000

Nov 2017

147,411,000196,000

Dec 2017

147,590,000179,000

Jan 2018

147,671,00081,000

Feb 2018

148,049,000378,000

Mar 2018

148,244,000195,000

Apr 2018

148,397,000153,000

May 2018

148,667,000270,000

Jun 2018

148,881,000214,000

Jul 2018

149,030,000149,000

Aug 2018

149,259,000229,000

Sep 2018

149,364,000105,000

Oct 2018

149,576,000212,000

Nov 2018

149,668,00092,000

Dec 2018

149,908,000240,000

Jan 2019

150,145,000237,000

Feb 2019

150,095,000-50,000

Mar 2019

150,263,000168,000

Apr 2019

150,482,000219,000

May 2019

150,545,00063,000

Jun 2019

150,720,000175,000

Jul 2019

150,913,000193,000

Aug 2019

151,108,000195,000

Sep 2019

151,329,000221,000

Oct 2019

151,524,000195,000

Nov 2019

151,758,000234,000

Dec 2019

151,919,000161,000

Jan 2020

152,234,000315,000

Feb 2020

152,523,000289,000

Mar 2020

150,840,000-1,683,000

Apr 2020

130,161,000-20,679,000

May 2020

132,994,0002,833,000

Jun 2020

137,840,0004,846,000

Jul 2020

139,566,0001,726,000

Aug 2020

141,149,0001,583,000

Sep 2020

141,865,000716,000

Oct 2020

142,545,000680,000

Nov 2020

142,809,000264,000

Dec 2020

142,582,000-227,000
Unemployment rates for selected groups, February, April, and December 2020
Race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicityFebruary 2020April 2020December 2020

Total, 16 years and older

3.514.86.7

White

3.014.16.0

Black or African American

6.016.79.9

Asian

2.414.55.9

Hispanic or Latino

4.418.99.3
Percent change in consumer prices for selected items in April 2020, seasonally adjusted
Expenditure categoryPercent change

Car and truck rental (1998)

-16.6

Airline fares (1989)

-15.2

Hotel and motel lodging (1967)

-8.1

Women’s footwear (1978)

-5.2

Full service meals and snacks (1998)

-0.3

Carbonated drinks (1978)

4.5

Household paper products (1997)

4.5

Cookies (1978)

5.1

Chicken (2004)

5.8

Improving How We Measure Prices for New Vehicles

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Brendan Williams is an economist in the Office of Prices and Living Conditions at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

For nearly as long as cars and trucks have been sold, the BLS Consumer Price Index (CPI) has tracked changes in the prices consumers pay for new vehicles. Our traditional method of determining the change in vehicle prices is to survey dealers and collect estimated prices for models with a specific set of features. For example, a Brand X 8-cylinder two-door sports coupe with a sunroof. We recently debuted a research index for new vehicles based on a large dataset of prices actually paid, which we call “transaction” prices. This is just one of many efforts currently underway in the CPI (and throughout BLS) to identify and introduce new sources of data into our statistical measures. As you are about to learn, a lot goes into introducing these new measures.

We purchased the new data for new vehicles from J.D. Power. The new dataset includes records of the prices paid during hundreds of thousands of transactions every month—far more than the roughly 2,000 vehicle prices in the CPI sample. The larger dataset provides more precise measures of price change.

But it’s not as simple as plugging the new data into the monthly CPI. We found that applying current CPI methods to the transaction data produced a biased index. So we had to make some changes. We combined an estimate of the long-run trend in new vehicle prices with a measure of high-frequency fluctuations in the market. The long-run trend is based on the year-over-year price change between a vehicle in the current month and the same vehicle in the prior model year 12 months ago; we get these values from the J.D. Power data. The high-frequency fluctuation is extracted from a monthly index based on current methods used in the CPI.

The research index includes all types of new vehicles—cars, SUVs, and trucks. And since the data reflect actual transactions, the shift in consumer preference from cars to other types of vehicles is reflected in the data. This differs from the currently published CPI, which has maintained a roughly equal weight between cars and trucks.

The new vehicles research index performs very similarly to the published index. From December 2007 to March 2020, the research index (untaxed) increased 8.2 percent, while the official new vehicles index (which is taxed) increased 7.7 percent. Looking under the hood, the research truck index is also similar to its published index. The difference in the car indexes is larger, with the official index showing a 5.2-percent increase, while the research index shows only a 1.5-percent increase.

Chart showing trends in research and official price indexes for new vehicles, 2007 to 2020

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

While the new vehicle indexes look similar, the research index has a much lower standard error, which means there is less variation in the data. The research index had a 12-month standard error of 0.11, compared to the 0.43 standard error in the new vehicles index.

This research index is just one of many ways BLS is innovating the CPI and all our measures. For more information on BLS efforts to use new sources of data in the CPI, see “Big Data in the U.S. Consumer Price Index: Experiences & Plans.” Details of the methods and other aspects of research are in, “A New Vehicles Transaction Price Index: Offsetting the Effects of Price Discrimination and Product Cycle Bias with a Year-Over-Year Index.”

We are asking for your feedback about whether to use this research index or the current index. We specifically want to know whether you think this proposal improves our methods and data sources. Please tell us what you think about the research new vehicles data by emailing cpixnv@bls.gov. You can send other CPI-related questions to cpi_info@bls.gov.

Research and official price indexes for new vehicles
MonthResearch index, trucks untaxedOfficial index, trucks untaxedResearch index, all vehicles untaxedOfficial index, all vehicles untaxedResearch index, cars untaxedOfficial index, cars untaxed

Dec 2007

100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0

Jan 2008

99.9100.299.6100.199.2100.0

Feb 2008

100.199.999.899.799.599.7

Mar 2008

100.899.3100.299.399.699.5

Apr 2008

99.998.799.698.999.399.2

May 2008

99.698.199.698.599.699.1

Jun 2008

100.197.7100.898.4101.599.2

Jul 2008

98.797.1100.098.3101.499.6

Aug 2008

96.395.898.397.6100.799.3

Sep 2008

95.794.797.996.9100.599.0

Oct 2008

95.894.797.896.8100.398.9

Nov 2008

95.294.797.296.999.999.0

Dec 2008

94.094.795.996.898.598.9

Jan 2009

94.095.595.797.597.899.5

Feb 2009

95.296.796.498.298.199.7

Mar 2009

95.297.496.398.597.899.7

Apr 2009

96.697.897.498.798.699.8

May 2009

96.898.197.698.998.699.9

Jun 2009

97.098.697.499.397.9100.1

Jul 2009

96.698.996.699.696.9100.3

Aug 2009

96.997.797.098.197.498.7

Sep 2009

99.098.099.498.5100.199.0

Oct 2009

98.899.899.3100.4100.0101.1

Nov 2009

99.2100.799.5101.6100.0102.5

Dec 2009

99.3100.999.2101.699.3102.5

Jan 2010

99.3101.199.2101.599.3102.1

Feb 2010

99.8101.499.5101.699.4102.1

Mar 2010

100.4101.4100.2101.4100.2101.7

Apr 2010

100.9101.2100.7101.198.3101.3

May 2010

101.0100.8100.8100.8100.7101.1

Jun 2010

101.3100.6100.9100.6100.7101.0

Jul 2010

101.5100.5101.1100.598.2100.8

Aug 2010

101.7100.5101.2100.3100.6100.6

Sep 2010

101.7100.7100.9100.5100.0100.8

Oct 2010

102.3101.0101.2100.999.7101.1

Nov 2010

102.5101.5101.2101.199.4101.2

Dec 2010

102.3101.9100.8101.498.9101.3

Jan 2011

102.4102.4100.8101.798.7101.3

Feb 2011

102.7103.3101.1102.699.2102.4

Mar 2011

103.7103.8102.0103.199.9102.9

Apr 2011

104.3104.0103.0103.5101.4103.5

May 2011

104.7104.3103.8104.3102.7104.7

Jun 2011

104.6104.3103.8104.7103.1105.5

Jul 2011

104.4104.0103.7104.5103.1105.4

Aug 2011

104.3103.7103.6104.1103.2105.1

Sep 2011

104.1103.6103.5104.1103.4105.2

Oct 2011

104.2103.8103.5104.3103.1105.2

Nov 2011

104.3104.1103.4104.4102.6105.2

Dec 2011

104.4104.3103.5104.6102.5105.3

Jan 2012

105.0105.0103.9105.0102.7105.4

Feb 2012

105.1105.9104.0105.6102.8105.8

Mar 2012

105.4106.0104.5105.6103.5105.7

Apr 2012

105.7106.1104.8105.7103.8105.9

May 2012

105.2105.8104.4105.7103.5105.9

Jun 2012

105.4105.8104.5105.6103.5105.9

Jul 2012

105.1105.5104.1105.3103.1105.5

Aug 2012

105.0105.5104.1105.2103.1105.4

Sep 2012

105.2105.6104.3105.2103.3105.3

Oct 2012

105.3105.8104.5105.4103.7105.4

Nov 2012

105.6106.2104.6105.9103.4106.1

Dec 2012

105.7106.5104.5106.2103.0106.4

Jan 2013

105.7107.1104.6106.7103.1106.8

Feb 2013

106.3107.2105.1106.8103.5106.8

Mar 2013

106.4107.4105.2106.8103.6106.8

Apr 2013

106.7107.7105.5107.0103.8106.8

May 2013

106.8107.6105.5106.8103.8106.6

Jun 2013

106.4107.8105.1106.9103.3106.4

Jul 2013

106.4107.6105.0106.6103.2106.1

Aug 2013

106.4107.3105.0106.3103.2105.8

Sep 2013

106.3107.6104.9106.4102.9105.8

Oct 2013

106.5107.6105.1106.5103.2105.7

Nov 2013

106.7107.8105.1106.6103.0105.8

Dec 2013

106.4108.0104.6106.7102.0105.9

Jan 2014

106.5108.1104.6106.7101.8106.0

Feb 2014

107.1108.6105.2107.1102.3106.3

Mar 2014

107.3108.6105.3107.1102.4106.2

Apr 2014

107.8109.0105.7107.4102.6106.4

May 2014

108.1108.9105.8107.3102.4106.4

Jun 2014

107.9108.4105.5106.9101.8106.0

Jul 2014

108.2108.6105.7106.9101.9105.9

Aug 2014

108.6108.7105.9106.7101.7105.4

Sep 2014

108.4108.7105.6106.7101.3105.4

Oct 2014

108.7109.0105.9107.1101.5105.7

Nov 2014

108.5109.2105.5107.2100.8105.9

Dec 2014

108.3109.4105.1107.2100.0105.8

Jan 2015

109.0109.3105.8107.2100.9105.8

Feb 2015

109.2109.9106.0107.8101.0106.4

Mar 2015

109.4110.2106.2108.0101.1106.5

Apr 2015

109.8110.5106.6108.2101.6106.5

May 2015

109.7110.6106.4108.2101.3106.5

Jun 2015

109.9110.5106.5108.2101.3106.5

Jul 2015

109.7110.2106.2107.7100.9105.9

Aug 2015

110.0109.8106.3107.3100.5105.5

Sep 2015

110.5109.8106.7107.2100.6105.3

Oct 2015

110.5109.8106.6107.2100.4105.2

Nov 2015

110.6110.2106.5107.499.9105.2

Dec 2015

111.0110.1106.9107.4100.4105.3

Jan 2016

111.5110.6107.3107.9100.7105.8

Feb 2016

111.8111.2107.7108.5101.2106.4

Mar 2016

112.0111.4107.8108.5101.1106.2

Apr 2016

112.2111.2108.0108.2101.3105.8

May 2016

111.9111.0107.6108.0100.7105.6

Jun 2016

111.9110.8107.4107.7100.1105.2

Jul 2016

111.1110.7106.8107.7100.0105.0

Aug 2016

111.8110.3107.3107.499.8104.7

Sep 2016

111.5110.3106.9107.299.5104.6

Oct 2016

111.3110.6106.7107.599.1104.9

Nov 2016

110.9110.6106.4107.699.0105.0

Dec 2016

111.1110.9106.5107.898.8105.1

Jan 2017

112.0111.9107.4108.999.8106.3

Feb 2017

111.8111.9107.3109.0100.0106.5

Mar 2017

112.1111.7107.3108.799.5106.0

Apr 2017

112.1111.7107.3108.699.3105.9

May 2017

111.9111.6107.1108.399.2105.5

Jun 2017

112.0111.1107.1107.899.1104.9

Jul 2017

111.9110.4106.9107.098.4103.9

Aug 2017

111.8110.2106.6106.697.9103.4

Sep 2017

111.4109.8106.3106.197.6102.8

Oct 2017

111.5109.7106.5106.097.9102.7

Nov 2017

112.0109.9106.8106.497.4103.2

Dec 2017

111.4110.7106.3107.297.9104.0

Jan 2018

111.9111.0106.9107.698.7104.4

Feb 2018

111.8110.8106.9107.498.9104.2

Mar 2018

111.2110.8106.3107.498.3104.2

Apr 2018

111.4110.3106.7106.999.3103.7

May 2018

111.1110.5106.4107.198.8104.1

Jun 2018

110.9110.6106.3107.299.1104.2

Jul 2018

111.3110.5106.7107.299.4104.3

Aug 2018

111.4110.2106.8106.999.5104.0

Sep 2018

111.3109.8106.8106.699.8103.9

Oct 2018

111.2109.6106.8106.5100.0103.9

Nov 2018

111.5109.8107.0106.799.9104.1

Dec 2018

110.7110.0106.3106.999.6104.2

Jan 2019

111.3110.8106.8107.6100.0104.8

Feb 2019

111.7111.0107.2107.7100.2104.9

Mar 2019

111.6111.5107.1108.199.9105.2

Apr 2019

112.0111.5107.4108.2100.1105.2

May 2019

112.2111.3107.6108.0100.3105.2

Jun 2019

111.7111.0107.2107.9100.6105.2

Jul 2019

111.9110.7107.4107.6100.6104.9

Aug 2019

111.5110.3106.9107.2100.2104.6

Sep 2019

111.6109.9107.1106.7100.1104.1

Oct 2019

111.9109.8107.3106.6100.3104.1

Nov 2019

111.3109.9106.8106.6100.0104.1

Dec 2019

111.2110.4106.8107.099.8104.3

Jan 2020

111.8111.0107.4107.7100.4105.1

Feb 2020

112.2111.4107.7108.2101.0105.7

Mar 2020

112.7110.9108.2107.7101.5105.2

When Worlds Converge: Statistics Agencies Learning from Each Other during the Pandemic

We never know when our worlds are going to converge. I have used this blog to tell you about how BLS operations are continuing—and changing—due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also plan to tell you about our international activities and will continue writing about the BLS Consumer Price Index (CPI) and other programs. Today, all three of these topics converge into one.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled BLS and statistical agencies worldwide to examine our processes and concepts to ensure the information we collect and publish reflects current conditions. For BLS, this means suspending all in-person data collection and relying on other methods, including telephone, internet, and email. Adding to our toolbox, BLS is now piloting video data collection. To be flexible, we have changed some collection procedures to accommodate current conditions. For example, we are now doing all of our work at home instead of in our offices. We are learning more every day about teleworking more effectively, and we are training our staff as we learn.

Once we collect the data, we are examining how we need to adapt our processing and publication. Will our typical procedures to account for missing data still apply? Will seasonal patterns in the data change due to COVID-19? Will we be able to publish the level of detail our data users have come to expect? These and more are open questions. We will make informed decisions as we learn more about the pandemic’s impact on our data and operations. What I do know is that BLS has a long practice of sharing its procedures and methods, including any changes. We already have extensive information about COVID-19 on the BLS website, and we continue to update that information. We also provide program-specific information with each data release to alert users to any unique circumstances in the data.

Since BLS has long been known for producing gold-standard data, information about our procedures and methods is also of great interest to our international colleagues. In fact, BLS has helped statistical organizations throughout the world with the collection, processing, analysis, publishing, and use of economic and labor statistics for more than 70 years. We provide this assistance primarily by our Division of International Technical Cooperation. They strengthen statistical development by organizing seminars, consultations, and meetings for international visitors with BLS staff. This division also serves as the main point of contact for the many international statistical organizations that compile information, publish comparable statistics worldwide, share concepts and definitions, and work to incorporate improvements and innovations.

A hallmark of our international activities has been onsite seminars at BLS, often attended by a multinational group of statistical experts and those working to become experts. At these seminars, BLS technical staff present details on every aspect of statistical programs, including concept development, sampling, data collection, estimation procedures, publishing, and more. In recent years, funding, travel restrictions, and other limitations have reduced the number of in-person events, replaced to some extent by virtual events. And of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions mean all such events are now being held virtually. But they still go on.

Recently, our international operations converged with our COVID-19 response when the International Technical Cooperation staff set up a virtual meeting between BLS staff primarily from our Consumer Price Index program and their counterparts at India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI). They met to discuss challenges in producing consumer price data during the ongoing pandemic. The discussion was largely about methodology: what to do with missing prices and how to adjust weights to reflect real-time shifts in spending that consumers are making in response to the pandemic. It is helpful to hear from worldwide colleagues who are facing similar challenges. These issues are unprecedented, and we know the potential solutions for one country may not be ideal for the nuanced conditions in another country.

In India, for instance, commerce has been limited to essential commodities—food, fuel, and medicine. This will likely leave them unable to publish some indexes. While this is unfortunate in the present time, it is fairly straightforward; they can’t publish what they don’t have. It gets more complicated a year from now. What does it mean to have an annual price change when the denominator is missing? The CPI deals with this by having a fairly robust imputation system—basically “borrowing” price change from similar areas and items—but we will be monitoring the situation closely to make sure our assumptions about what is similar remain valid.

One advantage BLS has over MOSPI is that we are able to collect data by telephone, email, or on the web. MOSPI has traditionally only done in-person collection. Both agencies are transitioning to different modes of collection, but we have significantly greater experience.

Sharing information with our international colleagues, about the CPI and other programs, and about our COVID-19 experience, is a key part of the BLS mission. These worlds continue to converge, not just during organized meetings but also on websites and wikis maintained by statistical organizations and through participation in expert groups and conferences. For example, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe hosts a ”statswiki” that currently has pages dedicated to COVID-19 and Official Statistics. It is a small world after all, and the worldwide social distancing we are all experiencing makes it clear that we are all in this together. And together, BLS and our international colleagues, reacting to COVID-19 and making adjustments to consumer price indexes and other statistics, will continue to provide vital information that tracks changes in the world economy.

How Have We Improved the Consumer Price Index? Let Me Count the Ways

Soon after I became Commissioner, the top-notch BLS staff was briefing me on the many programs and details that make up BLS. I asked the staff working on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) if they could list for me some of the improvements that have occurred over the past few years. It has been nearly a quarter century since the Boskin Commission studied the CPI and recommended enhancements. I knew many of these enhancements had been implemented, along with other improvements. But I was shocked to see my staff come back with an 8-page, detailed listing of 77 substantive improvements that have been implemented since 1996.

You may have thought a price index that has been around since 1913 is happy to rest on its laurels. Well, you’d be wrong. There are improvements to the CPI going on all the time. As I reviewed the list, I noticed a number of improvements involve the introduction of new or changed goods and services, such as cell phones or streaming services. I also noticed improvements in how we handle product changes, as I wrote recently in a blog about quality adjustment. But these topics only scratch the surface.

I’m not going to describe every CPI enhancement that has taken place over the past 24 years; you can find much more detail on the CPI webpage. But I will whet your appetite by highlighting a few categories of improvements.

Keeping the CPI market basket up to date

The goal of the CPI is to track the change in the prices consumers pay for a representative market basket of goods and services. Let’s look at the what and where of that market basket.

  • What we collect — goods and services. We collect prices for a market basket of goods and services, designed to represent what consumers are buying. In January 2002, we switched from updating that market basket every 10 years to every 2 years, providing a better representation of current spending patterns.
  • What we collect — housing. We track the cost of housing by a separate sample of housing units. In 2010, we increased that sample to improve accuracy. In 2016 we began rotating that sample every 6 years. Previously, the housing sample was only rotated when new geographic areas were introduced after the U.S. census.
  • Where we collect — outlets. We collect prices from stores and businesses that are chosen based on where consumers shop and buy goods and services. In January 1998, we switched from updating this sample of “outlets” every 5 years to every 4 years. And in January 2020, we switched the source used to determine those outlets to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, which is also the source of our spending information for the market basket of goods and services people buy. Previously we used a separate survey of households to identify outlets.
  • Where we collect — geography. We collect prices for goods and services in selected geographic areas, designed to represent all urban areas of the United States. In January 2018, we updated the geographic areas, designed to represent current population trends. We last updated these areas in 1998.

Collecting CPI information

According to folklore, CPI data collection was accomplished by staff who dressed up in high fashion, the ladies in fancy hats and white gloves and the gentlemen in the finest haberdashery, who then went shopping to determine the latest prices. That’s not how it happens. CPI staff are not paid to “shop” to collect prices. We use trained experts who are skilled at gaining cooperation from many different types of businesses; ensuring they are obtaining price information for goods and services that are consistent from one month to the next or making appropriate adjustments; and gathering information from thousands of outlets about hundreds of thousands of goods and services over a short data-collection period. Let’s look at how the data-collection process has improved:

  • When we collect — In June 2005, the CPI switched from a collection period that spanned the first 15–18 days of the month to collection across the entire month. This provides more representative data, especially for items that frequently vary in price within the same month.
  • How we collect — In January 1998, the CPI began using computerized data-collection tools, which automate certain math functions and screen for errors or inconsistencies. We continue to upgrade our processes; CPI data-collection staff recently began using a new generation of tablet computers.
  • Alternative collection — Not all price information comes from traditional collection with stores. Some information comes from websites, corporate data files, third parties that combine data from different sources, and more. In fact, the CPI and other BLS programs are focused on identifying even more alternative collection methods in the coming years.

Calculating the CPI

Once we collect the prices on all these goods and services, we need to calculate an index. In simple terms, we find the difference between the price in month 1 and the price in month 2, and express that difference as a rate of change from month 1. We publish rates of change and also express current prices as an index, which is equal to 100 in a base period.

Many factors and decisions go into combining data for an item and then combining data for all items into the published CPI. We’ve improved those calculations in several ways over the past few years.

  • Geometric mean — In January 1999, the CPI switched the formula for calculating price changes at the component item level from an arithmetic mean to a geometric mean. This allows the overall index to capture substitutions consumers make across specific products within a component item category when the prices of those products change relative to one another. With the geometric mean formula, BLS does not assume consumers substitute hamburgers for steak, which are in different component categories. The formula only captures substitution within a component category, such as among types of steak.
  • More decimal places — In January 2007, the CPI began publishing index numbers to 3 decimal places, which improved consistency between published index numbers and rates of change.

New information available to the public

While the CPI has been around for over a century, we have added a number of new indexes over time, to provide a variety of inflation figures. Here are some of the newest products in the CPI family:

  • Research (Retroactive) series — The CPI Research Series incorporates many of the improvements that came out of the Boskin Commission. The series provides a pretty consistent way to measure price changes from 1978 up to the most recent full year.
  • Chained CPI series – The Chained CPI uses an alternative formula that applies spending data in consecutive months to reflect any substitution that consumers make across component item categories in response to changes in relative prices. For example, this index would capture consumer substitution of hamburger for steak. This measure is designed to come closer to a “cost-of-living” index than other BLS measures. The series was first produced in 2002.
  • Elderly research series – The CPI for the Elderly reweights the component CPI data based on the spending patterns of elderly households. This series, mandated by Congress, began in 1988. In 2008, we extended the series retrospectively back to 1982.

As I have mentioned in the past, we are always working to improve the CPI. We recently contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to provide guidance on a variety of issues. I’ll use this space to report on the Committee’s work, as well as other improvements underway in the CPI.