(Brad Polumbo, Foundation for Economic Education) The Labor Department just released the latest Personal Consumption Expenditures index (PCE), which is the Federal Reserve’s preferred metric for monitoring inflation. It shows a 4.3 percent rise in consumer prices from August 2020 to August 2021, with prices rising 0.4 percent last month alone.
That’s the biggest annual surge recorded since January 1991—roughly three decades ago.
Even when factoring out volatile food and energy prices, the PCE still shows a 0.3 percent monthly rise in consumer prices and a 3.6 percent year-over-year increase. That’s the highest on that metric since May 1991!
This all may sound like abstract economic data, but it translates to a real erosion of everyday Americans’ living standards and purchasing power. As economist and FEE fellow Peter Jacobsen has previously explained, rising inflation means “the average consumer making the same salary this year has taken a pay cut when you consider what their paycheck can actually buy.”
Even the Federal Reserve is starting to acknowledge, much belatedly, that these persistent levels of inflation are not just a “temporary” problem.
“It’s also frustrating to see the bottlenecks and supply chain problems not getting better — in fact at the margins apparently getting a little bit worse,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said earlier this week. “We see that continuing into next year probably, and holding up inflation longer than we had thought.”
“It’s very difficult to say how big those effects will be in the meantime or how long they will last,” he added.
Of course, Powell and his colleagues at the Federal Reserve have every incentive to downplay the inflation problem hurting Americans. After all, it is, in part, driven by the Fed’s own policy decisions.
As Jacobsen noted when the concerning inflation metrics first arose in May 2021, the Fed has created trillions of new dollars out of thin air during the pandemic to date. The natural consequence of this money-supply expansion, he explains, is that “If more dollars chase the exact same goods, prices will rise.”
But even the Fed’s preferred inflation metric, the PCE, is now recording the highest levels of consumer price increases measured in 30 years. This problem is becoming impossible for even the most obstinate observers to deny. And until policymakers change course, American families will continue to pay the price.