WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Bill Knight - April 1

Macomb, IL – Partisan bickering aside, the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index seems to be remaining relatively low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released last week.


Oh, wait.

A percentage change of 2.9% between January 2009 and January 2010 doesn't seem bad - that is, until the details are broken down and a little history is considered.

That 2.9% rise in prices - inflation, really - is an aggregation of dozens of items, from education, energy and "food away from home" to housing, "furnishings and operations" and recreation.

Key ways Americans spend money - frequent ways; vital ways, in fact - show much heavier burdens on regular families' budgets.

Prices for medical care, gasoline and typical consumer goods skyrocketed in comparison to that 2.9% figure.

In Illinois, what people are paying for medical care is up 8.7% from a year ago.

That's not only nothing to sneeze at, that's another indication among a mountain of good reasons for Congress to have passed meaningful health-care reform.

Gasoline is exploding, too: It's up nationally 52.6% for unleaded regular from just a year ago, the BLS shows. The national average for self-serve regular hit $2.81 last week, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA) - up from $2.78 a week earlier and almost 20 cents higher than the previous month.

"Motorists should perhaps prepare for prices to go even higher between now and Memorial Day," reports Mark Huffman from ConsumerAffairs.com, "if for no other reason [than] because they always do."

Illinois motorists endure the sixth-highest average gas price in the country, at $2.94/gallon, ConsumerAffairs.com reports.

Besides workers or travelers using gasoline, truckers and farmers face increasing diesel-fuel prices, too. Diesel is up to $2.93/gallon nationwide, up 2 cents in a week. That's going to effect transportation and agriculture costs, which means goods consumers get that are trucked or grown.

Supplies of crude oil are high, and refineries aren't close to working at capacity, so they should be producing all the fuel people need. Therefore, the price hike is probably due to speculators' greed, not "free market" economic forces.

And the consumer goods most folks buy, day in and day out? They're considered "Non-durable goods" because - unlike microwave ovens, building materials, cars, etc. - non-durable goods aren't designed to last longer than about three years. And non-durable goods - think various textiles, perishable goods and cell phones - went up 15.1% in the last year.

The bottom line, according to BLS' own Inflation Calculator, is that what costs $79.45 in 2000 now costs us $100 - a cost of living up more than 20% since George W. Bush was named U.S. President.

Most Americans' pay hasn't increased by a fifth in the last 10 years.

Republicans don't get it, and it's increasingly unclear whether Democrats do either.