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What moms know about inflation the government doesn't

By PETER MORICI, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Dec. 19, 2013 at 10:59 AM   |   Comments

COLLEGE PARK, Md., Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The typical American mother must think U.S. government economists have rocks in their head.

The number crunchers at the U.S. Labor Department say that, over the last year, prices were up 1.2 percent and for the month of November inflation was zero, nada, zilch!

Surely economists don't eat or at least shop where mom does.

Sliced bread and hamburger, staples in her family's diet, were up a lot last month. And she faces higher health insurance costs and co-pays, thanks to Obamacare.

The government's Consumer Price Index tries to measure gains in prices across the entire economy but that stat is only an average. Most Americans simply need some items more than others and sometimes it is those necessities that rise the most.

For example, average consumer prices were flat in November largely because gasoline prices were down but most of everything else was up. For the mom in Brooklyn who rides the subway to work, lower driving costs aren't much help. Heating oil, which many families must purchase in New England, rose at a nearly 4 percent annual pace.

Back to the food aisle. The price of steak was down but most moms don't buy much sirloin these days and must purchase about the same amount of hamburger each month.

It may be great that restaurants catering to hedge fund managers got a break on bovine protein but mom can't mix a porterhouse to fashion a meatloaf to feed her hungry family.

Over the last decade, many Americans haven't had much in the way of pay raises and some who lost their jobs have new ones that pay less if they have a job at all. Even if inflation had been zero, they would be worse off.

The bite of state and local taxes has increased, even as community services have declined and more children are required to pay for school supplies. All that leaves moms with less to spend on rent and groceries but the CPI misses all that.

Also, the CPI doesn't consider new products that have become necessities, unless a mom wants her children to be grossly disadvantaged.

Internet, smartphones and tablets weren't in the family budget at the turn of the century. All that technology is great but kids don't eat fewer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches now that they have iPads.

Prices of some essentials -- or things that should be -- never fall, no matter what!

During the financial crisis many Americans put off treating less-than-urgent medical conditions and some healthcare providers were less busy than they would like. When was the last time your dentist sent a flier announcing "inventory clearance on kids checkups and crowns -- 30 percent off"?

Times have been tough for most Americans and it is natural to focus on the rising price of hamburger and ignore the falling price of chicken but in 2013 families were asked to endure more than $200 billion in higher federal taxes.

The bigger tax bite left mom with less to buy what her family needs but the government doesn't include its take in the Consumer Price Index -- even though it could.

You can bet the gang at the White House or on Capitol Hill will never publish data on the skyrocketing cost of government.

Politicians don't struggle on a budget quite the same way mom does. They can print money, or borrow and never repay, in ways she can't.

Politicians can simply tax mom, as she wends down the supermarket aisle and doesn't adequately appreciate how great it is to live in a nation without inflation.

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(Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, is a widely published columnist.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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