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Posts tagged with: "CPIMEDSL"

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Are we expecting too much inflation?

CPI vs. University of Michigan's survey of consumers' inflation expectations

This FRED graph compares expected inflation and actual inflation. In recent years, expectations (in red) have been consistently above realizations (in blue). Why?

How people form expectations is a fascinating topic, as expectations drive so many economic decisions. One important point here is that, individually, we notice relatively few prices in an inflation measure. That is, individuals buy fewer goods than are included in the basket that determines the CPI. Also, we tend to recall only a few of the prices we encounter, in particular those that changed or changed more than we might have expected. (Read more about individual perceptions and bias.)

The graph below shows there’s quite a bit of variance in price changes across categories of goods. As expectations of future inflation are largely determined by perceptions of past inflation, the end result is an upward bias in expectations.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, click on the CPI link on the FRED home page: Use the “Edit Graph” panel to change units to “Percent change from year ago.” Use the “Add Line” tab to search for “inflation expectation” and use the Michigan index. Restrict the sample period to start in 2017. For the second graph, start from the CPI release table, check the desired components, and click “Add to Graph.” Then use the “Edit Graph” panel to change the frequency of each line to “Annual, end of period.” Finally, in the “Format” tab, change graph type to “Bar”, close the tabs, and select period 2017-01-01 to 2020-01-01.

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.


Healthy inflation?

Inflation in the healthcare industry vs. general CPI

Some components of the consumer price index have consistently, over several decades, risen faster than the rest. This blog recently discussed education as one such component. The components of the CPI devoted to medical care have also seen faster price increases than the rest of the basket. Going back as far as the series are available, since 1948, the price of medical care has grown at an average annual rate of 5.3% while the entire basket, headline CPI, has grown at an average annual rate of 3.5%. In the past 20 years, in the regime of stable inflation, headline CPI has grown at an average annual rate of 2.2%, whereas the price level of medical care has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6%—about 70% faster.

The graph above shows the two time series. Besides the difference in their levels, it’s also notable how much less cyclical medical care inflation is. Although overall CPI inflation dips during recessions, medical care inflation stays steady.

The implication of these two features is far reaching: It’s symptomatic of the increasing share of income the U.S. spends on medical care. Beyond macro trends, the features of these two series themselves have policy implications. Indeed, indexing government healthcare budgets to overall CPI rather than medical care prices has implications for spending in real terms. This gap could also widen during recessions, when government help may be most in demand.

The CPI is intended to measure the price of goods consumers purchase directly, and therefore the medical care subset is actually measuring only the prices of out-of-pocket expenses. For healthcare, however, there’s a great deal of other spending going on. And the inflation rate of that spending is something a policymaker might need to know. Luckily, the BEA puts together a more holistic price index for healthcare spending—the health expenditures price index—which we add in the graph below. Although the history of this series is shorter, this measure of healthcare prices is still rising considerably faster than headline CPI: In 2001-2013, this measure of healthcare inflation rose almost 4% per year, whereas headline CPI rose 2.3% in this period and the other healthcare CPI rose 3.9%.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search for “Consumer Price Index Medical.” In the “Edit Graph” tab, convert the units to “Percent Change from a Year Ago.” Then use the “Add Line” feature to search for “Consumer Price Index All Items.” Add this line and again check that its units are the same. (FRED does this automatically, but it doesn’t hurt to check.) These series are both also available as chained indices, but for a shorter period. For the second graph, add to the first another line by searching for “Health Expenditures Price Blended Account.” Then restrict the period to show the entirety of the new line.

Suggested by David Wiczer.

View on FRED, series used in this post: CPIAUCSL, CPIMEDSL, HLTHSCPIBLEND

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