Consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in August and 5.3 percent over the past 12 months, according to data released Tuesday by the Labor Department 

Monthly growth in the consumer price index (CPI), a closely watched gauge of inflation, fell for the second consecutive month, dropping from a July increase of 0.5 percent. Economists expected the CPI to grow by 0.4 percent last month.

Annual growth in the CPI — one of several ways to measure yearly inflation — also fell from a 5.4 percent rate in July, the highest rate since August 2008. Excluding food and energy prices, which are more volatile, the CPI rose 4 percent over the past 12 months and just 0.1 percent in August.

While inflation remains close to decade-plus highs, the continued slowdown in price growth may help President BidenJoe BidenBiden stumps for Newsom on eve of recall: ‘The eyes of the nation are on California’ Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Family of American held hostage by Taliban urges administration to fire Afghanistan peace negotiator MORE and Democrats soothe concerns about the rising cost of living as they attempt to pass a sprawling economic agenda. Republicans have sought to blame Biden and congressional Democrats for the recent run-up in price growth with slightly more than a year until the midterm elections.

The decline may also relieve some pressure on the Federal Reserve to begin pulling back on bond purchases meant to keep borrowing costs low, especially as the delta variant continues to roil the U.S. economy.

“The August CPI report showed further moderation in the monthly gain in consumer inflation, especially at the core level,” wrote Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics.

“Headline CPI advanced by a solid 0.3%, though this is much softer than the outsized increases recorded in the prior five months,” she added. 

Economists expected inflation to cool slightly after a summer rush of travel and leisure spending drove price growth to remarkably high levels following steep declines in 2020.

Prices for airline fares, used cars and trucks, and motor vehicle insurance all fell in August after skyrocketing through most of the spring and summer. The CPI for used autos, which drove much of the summer’s increase in inflation, fell 1.5 percent in August but is still 31.9 percent higher than the same point in 2020.

Monthly inflation for groceries, restaurant and takeout meals, new vehicles, and shelter also fell in August. The rate of price growth for gasoline rose 0.4 percent in August, but the cost of fuel oil fell 2.1 percent last month as well.

The slowdown in inflation comes at a critical time for Biden and congressional Democrats as they race to write and pass a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure and social services bill, strike a deal with Republicans to fund the federal government and raise the country’s borrowing limit.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Tester says ‘100 percent’ of reconciliation package must be paid for Overnight Energy & Environment —

Thomas Trutschel | Photothek | Getty Images

Now might be a good time for the Federal Reserve to start worrying about inflation.

August’s jobs report, besides being a big disappointment on the 235,000 headline number, also showed that even with weak hiring, wages are rising.

Average hourly earnings jumped 0.6% for the month, about double what Wall Street had been expecting, and the increase from a year ago stood at a robust 4.3%, up from a 4% rise a month ago. Even leisure and hospitality, which saw zero net job growth in August, saw wages jump 1.3% for the month and 10.3% on the year.

Those numbers come as the Fed is weighing when to start pulling back on the historically easy monetary policy in place since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some voices on Wall Street expect the wage and inflation numbers to start resonating with Fed officials.

“The 5.2% unemployment rate and rapidly rising wages suggest building inflationary pressure that will ultimately lead to more hawkish policy,” Citigroup economist Andrew Hollenhorst wrote in a detailed analysis of the current jobs situation.

While Fed officials mostly discuss the total payroll gains, Hollenhorst said he “would expect this rhetoric to shift a bit, perhaps at the September [Federal Open Market Committee] meeting, with more focus on the high level of job openings and increasing wages.”

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell went to great lengths in his annual speech in August during the central bank’s Jackson Hole symposium to knock down concerns about rising wage pressures as well as inflation overall, despite consistently higher numbers.

“Today we see little evidence of wage increases that might threaten excessive,” Powell said during the Aug. 27 speech. Measures Powell said he follows – he did not mention the Labor Department’s monthly average hourly earnings figure – point to “wages moving up at a pace that appears consistent with our longer-term inflation objective.”

One specific measure Powell mentioned was the Atlanta Fed’s Wage Growth Tracker.

That measure looks at wages on monthly and 12-month basis and then uses a three-month moving average to iron out distortions. On a smoothed level, the tracker is showing wages rising at a 3.7% pace, fairly consistent with the past few years. Without smoothing, the 12-month rate runs to 4.2%, which is the highest since 2007 and representative of how bumpy the data has gotten lately.

The Atlanta Fed will next update the tracker Friday, giving the Fed another look at potential pressures that could trigger a wage-price spiral, which economists consider “bad” inflation.

Fed officials thus far have attributed higher inflation numbers to supply issues. A continued rise in wages could signal that demand is becoming a factor.

“When it is difficult to disentangle demand from supply effects, price signals become more important to assess the extent of excess demand,” wrote Nomura chief economist Rob Subbaraman.

Concerns about policy

To be sure, there also is evidence that some of the issues that might spur inflation could abate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday pledged “powerful support” to complete the U.S. economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, but faced sharp questions from Republican lawmakers concerned about recent spikes in inflation.

In testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, Powell said he is confident recent price hikes are associated with the country’s post-pandemic reopening and will fade, and that the Fed should stay focused on getting as many people back to work as possible.

Any move to reduce support for the economy, by first slowing the U.S. central bank’s $120 billion in monthly bond purchases, is “still a ways off,” Powell said, with millions of people who were working before the crisis still to be pulled back into the labor force.

“The high inflation readings are for a small group of goods and services directly tied to the reopening,” Powell testified, language that indicated he saw no need to rush the shift towards post-pandemic policy.

Representative Ann Wagner, a Republican from Missouri, challenged that conclusion, relaying what’s likely to be a refrain from lawmakers as long as inflation continues to rise: their constituents are getting worried.

At a prior hearing in February “you reiterated that price spikes were temporary. I can tell you that the families and businesses I represent are not feeling that these price spikes are temporary,” Wagner said.

“The incoming data have been higher than expected and hoped for but are still consistent” with a temporary bout of higher prices, Powell responded.

“It is housing, appliances, food prices, gas,” Wagner retorted, a sign of what could become growing political pressure on the Fed to get tougher on inflation if the spikes in prices continue.

Representative Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican from Ohio, took aim at a new Fed framework that aims to encourage higher employment by letting inflation run “moderately” above the central bank’s 2% target “for some time”

“How long is ‘some time’?” Gonzalez asked, arguing that the Fed’s current policies may be doing little to encourage employment at a time when employers are already posting record numbers of jobs.

“It depends,” Powell said, demonstrating the dilemma he faces if prices continue rising. “Right now inflation is well above 2%. … The question for the (Federal Open Market) Committee will be where does this leave us in six months.”

U.S. Treasury yields fell after the release of Powell’s prepared testimony earlier on Wednesday and remained lower even though prices of factory inputs rose at a higher-than-expected pace in June, an indication markets construed his comments as a sign the monetary taps will stay open.

Powell’s remarks were notable as well for excluding any mention of risks to the recovery from the coronavirus Delta variant, with the Fed chief saying the central bank expects strong upcoming job gains “as public health conditions continue to improve.”

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell holds a news conference following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua

(Adds Powell’s prepared testimony)

WASHINGTON, July 14 (Reuters) – U.S. monetary policy will offer “powerful support” to the economy “until the recovery is complete,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday in remarks that portrayed a recent jump in inflation as temporary and focused on the need for continued job gains.

Any move to pull back support for the economy, by first slowing the U.S. central bank’s $120 billion in monthly bond purchases, is “still a ways off,” Powell said in comments prepared for delivery to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT).

Despite recent job gains “there is still a long way to go” in pulling millions of people from the sidelines, many of them lower-wage, Black or Hispanic workers hit hardest by the recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Powell said.

Addressing concerns that inflation posed new risks of its own, Powell said the pace of price increases “will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating,” language that indicated he saw no need to rush the shift towards post-pandemic policy. Long-term inflation expectations, he said, remained consistent with the Fed’s 2% inflation target.

U.S. Treasury yields fell after the release of Powell’s prepared testimony even though prices of factory inputs rose at a higher-than-expected pace, an indication markets construed his comments as keeping the monetary taps open.

The remarks were notable as well for excluding any mention of the Delta variant of the coronavirus as a risk to the recovery, with Powell saying the Fed expects strong upcoming job gains “as public health conditions continue to improve.”

Powell is likely to be questioned about that issue as well as the Fed’s outlook on inflation, the labor market and the economic recovery during two days of testimony in Congress.

Powell appears before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday.

Faster-than-anticipated inflation and a new rise in coronavirus infections due to the Delta variant pose a potential dilemma for Powell, pulling the outlook for policy in opposite directions.

The Fed’s June meeting saw officials begin a move towards post-pandemic policy, with some of them poised to tighten financial conditions sooner to ensure inflation remains contained. Renewed coronavirus-related risks, if they materialize, could push the Fed in the other direction of keeping support for the recovery in place longer in case household and business spending wanes amid a rise in new infections.

Falling Treasury bond yields have indicated concern among investors about slowing U.S. economic growth, even as new data on prices this week showed consumers paying appreciably more for an array of goods and services, including appliances, fabric, beef and rent.

In a report to Congress last week, the Fed said that as the “extraordinary circumstances” of the reopening subside, “supply and demand should become better aligned, and inflation is widely expected to move down.”

RISING DELTA

While each month of high inflation makes it harder to stick to that conviction, Powell for now is keeping to the

The claim: Gas prices are the highest in 10 years, job growth is the worst in 20 years, inflation is the highest in 30 years and illegal immigration is at its highest level in 40 years

The U.S. continues to crawl out from under the COVID-19 pandemic, but a widely shared Facebook post misses the mark on several indicators about the state of the country.

“Gas prices highest in a decade. Worst jobs report in 2 decades. Highest inflation in 3 decades. Highest increase in illegal immigration in 4 decades,” according to the May 17 post that has been shared more than 1,400 times. “Y’all killed it with your emotional voting skills!”

A picture of a tuxedo-clad Bugs Bunny stares, unamused, at the reader.

Gas prices and inflation indeed are rising, and the April jobs report missed economists’ expectations. More migrants have tried to enter the United States in the last several months as well.

But the post is wrong at almost every turn. Gas prices are not their highest of the decade. Job gains in April were far from the worst of the last 20 years, too; the U.S. lost more than 20 million jobs in April 2020 alone. Inflation was higher at the start of the Great Recession.

Illegal immigration is more complicated to track, but apprehensions along the southwest border haven’t yet reached a 40-year record.

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The Facebook user who shared the post did not respond to a request for comment.

Gas prices

The national average price for a gallon of regular gas was about $3.03 on May 26, according to GasBuddy and the AAA auto club.

Gas prices haven’t been that high since 2014, but they aren’t the highest in a decade – making this part of the claim FALSE.

The last time the national average gas price was that high was Oct. 28, 2014, according to daily price data provided by AAA to USA TODAY. Prices were above $3 a gallon every day for nearly 2.5 years beginning on May 26, 2012.

Since the end of October 2014, the price of a gallon of gas hadn’t hit $3 until May 12, but it already was on the rise after sinking during the COVID-19 pandemic as fewer people commuted to work and school and scrapped travel plans.

AAA and Gasbuddy both expected $3 gas in 2021, but AAA spokeswoman Jeannette Casselano said it arrived earlier than anticipated because of the Colonial Pipeline’s temporary shutdown following a ransomware attack.

Fact check:Colonial Pipeline gas shortage was result of cyberattack by hackers

Part of the reason for the increase is higher demand. AAA expects the number of travelers driving for the Memorial Day weekend to approach pre-pandemic levels, Casselano said. The price of oil also factors into the cost of gas.

Jobs report

The jobs report was not the worst of the last two decades– so this part of the claim is