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U.S. Inflation Is Highest in 13 Years as Prices Surge 5%

U.S. Inflation Is Highest in 13 Years as Prices Surge 5%

The rapid rise in consumer prices in May reflected a surge in demand and shortages of labor and materials

The U.S. economy’s rebound from the pandemic is driving the biggest surge in inflation in nearly 13 years, with consumer prices rising in May by 5% from a year ago.

The Labor Department said last month’s increase in the consumer-price index was the largest since August 2008, when the reading rose 5.4%. The core-price index, which excludes the often-volatile categories of food and energy, jumped 3.8% in May from the year before—the largest increase for that reading since June 1992.

Consumers are seeing higher prices for many of their purchases, particularly big-ticket items such as vehicles. Prices for used cars and trucks leapt 7.3% from the previous month, driving one-third of the rise in the overall index. The indexes for furniture, airline fares and apparel also rose sharply in May.

A separate reading showed the U.S. labor market continued to heal from the pandemic, with initial claims for unemployment benefits falling to another pandemic low.

May’s jump in prices extends a trend that accelerated this spring amid widespread Covid-19 vaccinations, relaxed business restrictions, trillions of dollars in federal pandemic relief programs and ample household savings—all of which have stoked demand for Americans to spend and travel more.

Overall prices jumped at a 9.7% annualized rate over the three months ended in May. On a month-to-month basis, overall prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6% and core prices rose 0.7%.

The annual inflation measurements are being boosted by comparisons with figures from last year during pandemic-related lockdowns, when prices plummeted because of collapsing demand for many goods and services. This so-called base effect is expected to push up inflation readings significantly in May and June, dwindling into the fall.

Compared with two years ago, overall prices rose a more muted 2.5% in May.

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