U.S. consumer prices rose 0.4% in September from August as the costs of new cars, food, gas, and restaurant meals all jumped.
The annual increase in the consumer price index matched readings in June and July as the highest in 13 years, the Labor Department said Wednesday. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core inflation rose 0.2% in September and 4% compared with a year ago. Core prices hit a three-decade high of 4.5% in June.
The unexpected burst of inflation this year reflects sharply higher prices for food and energy, but also for furniture, cars, televisions, and other largely imported goods. COVID-19 has shut down factories in Asia and slowed U.S. port operations, leaving container ships anchored at sea and consumers and businesses paying more for goods that may not arrive for months.
“Price increases stemming from ongoing supply chain bottlenecks amid strong demand will keep the rate of inflation elevated, as supply/demand imbalances are only gradually resolved,” said Kathy Bostjancic, an economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm. “While we share the Fed’s view that this isn’t the start of an upward wage-price spiral, we look for inflation to remain persistently above 3% through mid-2022.”
Higher prices are also outstripping the pay gains many workers are able to obtain from businesses, which are having to pay more to attract employees. Average hourly wages rose 4.6% in September from a year earlier, a healthy increase, but not enough to keep up with inflation.
Prices for household furniture, which has faced major shipping delays, jumped 2.4% in September alone, the biggest increase since 1988. Over the past 12 months, furniture costs have soared 11.2%, the most since 1951.
Restaurant owners are paying higher salaries to lure workers who have become elusive in the pandemic and they're paying more for food. And for the fifth consecutive month, that has led to outsized price gains, 0.5%, in September. The cost of a meal at a full-service restaurant has jumped 5.2% in the past year, an unprecedented leap for as long as records have been kept.
Gas prices jumped 1.2% last month and have soared more than 42% compared with a year ago. Electricity prices rose 0.8% in September from August.
The price gains are also a vulnerability for President Joe Biden, who has been accused by Republicans for spurring inflation with his $1.9 trillion rescue package enacted in March of this year.