U.S. Inflation Rate: Overview and Breakdown

As of Sat, Apr 20, 2024 (updates daily)
Summary
  • In March 2024, the annual inflation rate in the U.S. was 3.48% before seasonal adjustment over the last 12 months, slightly rising from 3.15% in February 2024. Still, it was the highest reading since September 2023.
  • In March 2024, the annual core inflation rate in the U.S. was 3.8% before seasonal adjustment over the last 12 months, slightly rising from 3.75% in February 2024.

U.S. Inflation Rate

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Inflation is the rate of increase in the price of goods and services over a period of time. The most widely used measure of inflation is the percentage change in the consumer price index (CPI) over a certain period (usually a year), where the CPI is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.

GuruFocus uses "Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: All Items in U.S. City Average" as the CPI data to calculate U.S. inflation rate. In March 2024, the annual inflation rate in the U.S. was 3.48% before seasonal adjustment over the last 12 months, slightly rising from 3.15% in February 2024. Still, it was the highest reading since September 2023.

Statistically, we can see the current (March 2024) annual inflation rate of 3.48% in the U.S. is lower than the latest 20-year average of 2.59%, plus one standard deviation of 1.94%. Over the last 20 years, the annual U.S. inflation rate peaked at 9.06% in June 2022, which indicates the lowest purchasing power of the U.S. dollar. The lowest inflation rate of -2.1% occurred in July 2009, which indicates the highest purchasing power.

U.S. Core Inflation Rate

GuruFocus uses "Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: All Items Less Food and Energy" as the core CPI data to calculate U.S. core inflation rate. In March 2024, the annual core inflation rate in the U.S. was 3.8% before seasonal adjustment over the last 12 months, slightly rising from 3.75% in February 2024.

Statistically, we can see the current (March 2024) annual core inflation rate of 3.8% in the U.S. is higher than the latest 20-year average of 2.4%, plus one standard deviation of 1.23%. Over the last 20 years, the annual U.S. core inflation rate peaked at 6.63% in September 2022, which indicates the lowest purchasing power of the U.S. dollar. The lowest core inflation rate of 0.61% occurred in October 2010, which indicates the highest purchasing power.

From the two U.S. inflation charts, we can see the inflation rate is positive for most of the year, which means the overall price of goods and services has increased over time. This also indicates a loss of purchasing power, i.e. a unit of money buys fewer goods and services. In economics, deflation is a decline in the general price level of goods and services that occurs when the inflation rate falls below 0%.

Although high inflation hurts an economy, deflation, or falling prices, is also undesirable. When prices fall, consumers delay purchases in anticipation of lower prices in the future, which means less economic activity, less income for producers and less economic growth for the economy. The chart shows that deflation has been associated with recessions in the U.S., and that the most severe deflation occurred immediately after the 2008 financial crisis. Most economists now agree that low, stable and, most importantly, predictable inflation is good for the economy.

Major Contributors to U.S. Inflation

A closer look at inflation by component provides a more detailed picture of inflation.

There are two classification methods for the CPI. For analytical purposes, the CPI can be divided into three groups: food, energy, and all items less food and energy. Another way is to arrange different expenditure items into 8 major groups, including food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, recreation, education and communication, and other goods and services.

The charts below show the contribution of each component of the CPI to inflation. Each component's contribution to total annual inflation depends on its weight in the consumption basket and its own inflation rate. The weight is an estimate of how consumers would allocate their spending as prices change over time and is expressed as a percentage of all items within a sector.

Core Inflation and CPI Breakdown

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The CPI for all items less food and energy gets considerable attention as a measure of underlying core inflation, which is not subject to the volatile movements of food and energy prices. Among the three components, the contribution of each component in descending order is listed as All Items Less Food and Energy (87.07%), Food (8.62%), and Energy (4.31%).

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Table: Percent changes in CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U): U.S. city average (Unadjusted)

Changes from Preceding Month Changes over 12-months
Sep. 2023 Oct. 2023 Nov. 2023 Dec. 2023 Jan. 2024 Feb. 2024 Mar. 2024 Feb. 2024 Mar. 2024
Food 0.19 0.32 -0.17 0.07 0.59 0.12 0.10 2.23 2.24
Energy 0.57 -3.12 -3.39 -2.76 0.39 2.19 3.14 -1.90 2.12
All Items less Food and Energy 0.23 0.18 0.07 0.10 0.55 0.57 0.53 3.75 3.80

Overall, comparing with the latest (March 2024) annual inflation rate in the U.S. with the previous month-end (February 2024) annual inflation rate, there were increases in the cost of Food (2.24% vs 2.23%), All Items less Food and Energy (3.80% vs 3.75%), and Energy (2.12% vs -1.90%).

  • Food: In March 2024, the Food index rose 0.10% over the month. Additionally, the index for Food increased 2.24% over the past 12 months.
  • Energy: In March 2024, the Energy index rose 3.14% over the month. Additionally, the index for Energy increased 2.12% over the past 12 months.
  • All Items less Food and Energy: In March 2024, the All Items less Food and Energy index rose 0.53% over the month. Additionally, the index for All Items less Food and Energy increased 3.80% over the past 12 months.

8 Major Expenditure Groups Inflation and CPI Breakdown

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Based on the eight major groups of expenditures in the CPI, the U.S. inflation rate can be broken down into eight major components. Among all the components, the largest contributor to the annual inflation rate in the U.S. is Housing, which accounts for about 58.21% of total inflation as of March 2024, while the smallest contributor is Education and Communication, which accounts for only 0.29% of the total. Apart from these, the contribution of each component in descending order is listed as Transportation (19.88%), Food and Beverages (9.22%), Medical Care (5.19%), Other Goods and Services (3.75%), Recreation (2.88%), and Apparel (0.58%).

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Table: Percent changes in CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U): U.S. city average (Unadjusted)

Changes from Preceding Month Changes over 12-months
Sep. 2023 Oct. 2023 Nov. 2023 Dec. 2023 Jan. 2024 Feb. 2024 Mar. 2024 Feb. 2024 Mar. 2024
Food and Beverages 0.21 0.31 -0.17 0.07 0.57 0.13 0.09 2.24 2.25
Housing 0.52 0.12 0.24 0.28 0.79 0.45 0.47 4.52 4.65
Apparel 1.44 -0.28 -3.53 -1.79 1.71 3.16 1.25 -0.04 0.40
Transportation -0.62 -0.91 -1.11 -1.37 -0.48 1.73 2.19 2.67 4.01
Medical Care 0.06 0.24 0.37 0.31 0.67 0.00 0.48 1.41 2.21
Recreation 0.43 0.03 -0.32 0.38 0.72 0.38 -0.10 2.07 1.84
Education and Communication 0.29 -0.21 -0.38 0.04 0.39 0.41 -0.10 0.38 0.23
Other Goods and Services 0.57 0.64 0.21 -0.21 0.80 0.00 0.46 4.74 4.70

Overall, comparing with the latest (March 2024) annual inflation rate in the U.S. with the previous month-end (February 2024) annual inflation rate, a slowdown was seen in Recreation prices (1.84% vs 2.07%), Education and Communication prices (0.23% vs 0.38%), and Other Goods and Services prices (4.70% vs 4.74%). In contrast, there were increases in the cost of Food and Beverages (2.25% vs 2.24%), Housing (4.65% vs 4.52%), Apparel (0.40% vs -0.04%), Transportation (4.01% vs 2.67%), and Medical Care (2.21% vs 1.41%).

  • Food and Beverages: In March 2024, the Food and Beverages index rose 0.09% over the month. Additionally, the index for Food and Beverages increased 2.25% over the past 12 months.
  • Housing: In March 2024, the Housing index rose 0.47% over the month. Additionally, the index for Housing increased 4.65% over the past 12 months.
  • Apparel: In March 2024, the Apparel index rose 1.25% over the month. Additionally, the index for Apparel increased 0.40% over the past 12 months.
  • Transportation: In March 2024, the Transportation index rose 2.19% over the month. Additionally, the index for Transportation increased 4.01% over the past 12 months.
  • Medical Care: In March 2024, the Medical Care index rose 0.48% over the month. Additionally, the index for Medical Care increased 2.21% over the past 12 months.
  • Recreation: In March 2024, the Recreation index fell 0.1% over the month. Additionally, the index for Recreation increased 1.84% over the past 12 months.
  • Education and Communication: In March 2024, the Education and Communication index fell 0.1% over the month. Additionally, the index for Education and Communication increased 0.23% over the past 12 months.
  • Other Goods and Services: In March 2024, the Other Goods and Services index rose 0.46% over the month. Additionally, the index for Other Goods and Services increased 4.70% over the past 12 months.

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