Financial Poise

Consumer Price Index (CPI)

  • December 14, 2022
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The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the change in prices paid by consumers for goods and services. The CPI reflects spending patterns for each of two population groups: all urban consumers and urban wage earners and clerical workers. The all-urban consumer group represents about 93% of the total U.S. population. It is based on the expenditures of almost all residents of urban or metropolitan areas, including professionals, the self-employed, the poor, the unemployed, and retired people, as well as urban wage earners and clerical workers.

Not included in the CPI are the spending patterns of people living in rural nonmetropolitan areas, farming families, people in the Armed Forces, and those in institutions such as prisons and mental hospitals. Consumer inflation for all urban consumers is measured by two indexes, namely, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) and the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U).

The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is based on the expenditures of households included in the CPI-U definition that meet two requirements: more than one-half of the household’s income must come from clerical or wage occupations, and at least one of the household’s earners must have been employed for at least 37 weeks during the previous 12 months. The CPI-W population represents about 29 percent of the total U.S. population and is a subset of the CPI-U population.

The CPIs are based on prices of food, clothing, shelter, fuels, transportation, doctors’ and dentists’ services, drugs, and other goods and services that people buy for day-to-day living. Prices are collected monthly in 75 urban areas across the country from about 6,000 housing units and approximately 22,000 retail establishments (department stores, supermarkets, hospitals, filling stations, and other types of stores and service establishments).

All taxes directly associated with the purchase and use of items are included in the index. Prices of fuels and a few other items are obtained every month in all 75 locations. Prices of most other commodities and services are collected every month in the three largest geographic areas and every other month in other areas. Prices of most goods and services are obtained by personal visits, telephone calls, or web collection by the Bureau’s trained representatives.

In calculating the index, price changes for the various items in each location are aggregated using weights, representing their importance in the spending of the appropriate population group. Local data are then combined to obtain a US city average. For the CPI-U and CPI-W, separate indexes are also published by size of the city, by region of the country, for cross-classifications of regions and population-size classes, and for 23 selected local areas.

Area indexes do not measure differences in the level of prices among cities; they only measure the average change in prices for each area since the base period. For the C-CPI-U, data are issued only at the national level. The CPI-U and CPI-W are considered final when released, but the C-CPI-U is issued in preliminary form and subject to three subsequent quarterly revisions.  The index measures price change from a designed reference date. For most of the CPI-U and the CPI-W, the reference base is 1982-84 equals 100. The reference base for the C-CPI-U is December 1999 equals 100. An increase of 7% from the reference base, for example, is shown as 107.000. Alternatively, that relationship can also be expressed as the price of a base period market basket of goods and services rising from $100 to $107.