There has been a great deal of economic good news for the average American in the past two years, particularly striking in the context of an ongoing pandemic. Unemployment is at its lowest rate since 1969, and wages are rising, with personal income up by 6.6% in 2020 and 7.4% in 2021. Still, overshadowing these positive figures are those tracking inflation, with the consumer price index rising 8.5% between March 2021 and March 2022.
Even with a wide open job market and higher salaries, consumers are reminded every day of the toll that inflation is taking on the family budget. The message hits hardest at the gas pump, where gas prices have risen 48% in the past year. For people heating their homes with fuel oil, the impact has been even greater, with fuel prices rising 71%. And although food costs have more or less tracked wage increases, for many grocery products, prices feel exorbitant. (These are the states with the highest gas prices.)
To determine the 20 groceries driving up your food bill the most, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on the consumer price index for all urban consumers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food and beverage products were ranked based on the percentage change in CPI, not seasonally adjusted, from March 2021 to March 2022. Prices on this list increased in price over the past year from 12.5% to 18.3%.
The current discomfort at the supermarket comes after years of steady, predictable grocery bills. Rises in food prices fluctuated within a limited range between 2013 and 2020, with increases ranging from 1.1% to 3.3% in those years, except for 2016 when there was a 0.1 % decrease in food costs.
The pandemic year of 2020 changed this non-inflationary trend dramatically. In 2020, food prices rose 3.8%, more than double the increase of the previous year, and in 2021 there was an increase of 6.8% in food prices. The trend has continued, with the cost of food rising 7.9% between February 2021 and February 2022 and by 8.8% between March 2021 and March 2022.
Predictions as to how the upward trend in prices will play out are complicated by the increases in interest rates the Federal Reserve has initiated, which is likely to push prices downward. Another complicating factor is the war in Ukraine, which has caused supply disruption from Ukraine, a major producer of several food items. The shortages may force prices higher.
This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture raised its price increase forecasts for all food items except vegetables, but the overall prediction is that increases in food prices will be lower than they were in 2020 and 2021, rising between 4.5% and 5.5% in 2022. (Not all prices are soaring, the price of this household item is plunging.)
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