Inflation is on everyone’s mind these days. We’ve all seen the news coverage on the rising Consumer Price Index, which began climbing in May — but precisely what does that mean for your trip to the local supermarket or the shopping center? Which goods and services in Seattle have been hit the hardest?
To find out, I turned to the Cost of Living Index, which is published quarterly by the Arlington, Virginia-based Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, a nonprofit research and policy organization. For more than 50 years, the Cost of Living Index, or COLI, has measured the costs of a variety of consumer goods and services in hundreds of U.S. cities on a quarterly basis.
COLI researchers collect their data during the same three-day period each quarter. For a city the size of Seattle, COLI researchers collect as many as 10 sample prices for each item, when possible. They’re given detailed instructions on how to select each item (such as brand, size and so on) to ensure the items are as comparable as possible between cities. Taxes are not included in the price.
Typically this data is used to compare living costs in one city to another. But for this column, I used it to compare Seattle to itself. I looked at prices from the just-released 3rd quarter data for 2021 (July through September), and the same release from one year earlier.
The data for Seattle shows that 32 of the 57 items covered in COLI survey have gone up in the past year, and for many of these, prices have increased significantly. Even so, the remaining 25 items dropped in price, or stayed the same.
The biggest increase captured in the data is for the cost of gasoline, which is probably not a surprise to anyone. Gasoline prices in the U.S. are at a seven-year high. A gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline typically costs $4.21 in the city of Seattle in the new data, up $1.35 from one year earlier — an increase of about 47%.
The COLI shows that clothing prices have also been hit hard by inflation, which may be the result of pandemic-related issues with the supply chain. The survey includes several items of clothing, all of which have increased by double digits in Seattle.
The biggest increase was for a pair of name-brand boys bluejeans, purchased at a major department store. In the most recent data, the average price was $43.75, up from $30.15 one year earlier — a 45% increase.
Some fast-food prices have also gone way up. The price of a McDonald’s Quarter-pounder with cheese in Seattle jumped 40% in one year (McDonald’s has blamed wage increases and supply costs for the price increases nationally). A fried chicken sandwich from one of the major fast-food chains went up nearly as much. But Domino’s pizza prices increased by a more modest 5%.
Quite a few grocery store items in Seattle have increased significantly in price, but there are some others that have gone down.
Some of the biggest price jumps in Seattle captured in the COLI data include the cost for a pound of rib-eye steak and a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. On the other hand, some items, such as a 2 liter bottle of Coke and a half-gallon of milk, have had double-digit declines in price.
The COLI shows alcohol prices are up, and in particular the price of beer. A six-pack of Heineken (12-ounce. size) in Seattle increased 26% in one year.
The costs for a number of local services have increased. There are reports of a spike in demand for veterinary services locally, and perhaps that explains the 26% increase in the cost of an annual exam for a healthy young dog.
The cost of major appliance repair and car repair — represented in the COLI by washing machine repair and tire balancing — are both up as well in Seattle.
One of the largest price declines, though, is for a dental teeth cleaning, down about 15%. The price of a men’s barbershop haircut has dropped nearly as much — perhaps shops have lowered prices because, with so many of us spending more time at home since the pandemic began, we’ve let our grooming habits slide a bit.
I’ll mention one more item the COLI shows has not gone up in price, despite the current inflation: the cost of a digital subscription to your local big-city newspaper remains unchanged from one year ago. Please forgive the shameless plug.