Consumer Price Index (CPI) Explained: What It Is and How It’s Used

Consumer Price Index (CPI) Defined: What It Is and How It is Used

What Is the Consumer Price Index (CPI)?

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the month-to-month change in costs paid by U.S. customers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates the CPI as a weighted common of costs for a basket of goods and services consultant of combination U.S. shopper spending.1

The CPI is among the hottest measures of inflation and deflation. The CPI report makes use of a unique survey methodology, value samples, and index weights than the producer value index (PPI), which measures adjustments within the costs obtained by U.S. producers of products and companies.23


  • The Consumer Price Index measures the general change in shopper costs based mostly on a consultant basket of products and companies over time.
  • The CPI is probably the most extensively used measure of inflation, intently adopted by policymakers, monetary markets, companies, and customers.
  • The extensively quoted CPI is predicated on an index masking 93% of the U.S. inhabitants, whereas a associated index masking wage earners and clerical employees is used for cost-of-living changes to federal advantages.
  • The CPI is predicated on about 80,000 value quotes collected month-to-month from some 23,000 retail and repair institutions in addition to 50,000 rental housing items.
  • Housing rents are used to estimate the change in shelter prices together with owner-occupied housing that account for a few third of the CPI.

Understanding the Consumer Price Index (CPI)

The BLS collects about 80,000 costs month-to-month from some 23,000 retail and repair institutions. Though the 2 CPI indexes calculated from the info each comprise the phrase city, the extra broad-based and extensively cited of the 2 covers 93% of the U.S. inhabitants.43

Shelter class costs accounting for a 3rd of the general CPI are based mostly on a survey of rental costs for 50,000 housing items, which is then used to calculate the rise in rental costs in addition to homeowners’ equivalents.35

The homeowners’ equal class fashions the hire equal for owner-occupied housing to correctly replicate housing prices’ share of shopper spending.5 Consumer charges and gross sales or excise taxes are included, whereas earnings taxes and the costs of investments resembling shares, bonds, or life insurance policies usually are not a part of the CPI.3

The calculation of the CPI indexes from the info components in substitution results—customers’ tendency to shift spending away from merchandise and classes has grown comparatively dearer. It additionally adjusts value knowledge for adjustments in product high quality and options. The weighting of the product and repair classes within the CPI indexes corresponds to current shopper spending patterns derived from a separate survey.67

The CPI-U elevated 3.2% over the 12-month interval ending July 2023. That was a rise of 0.2% from the earlier month.8


Varieties of Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs)

The BLS publishes two indexes every month. The Consumer Price Index for All City Shoppers (CPI-U) represents 93% of the U.S. inhabitants not dwelling in distant rural areas. It would not cowl spending by individuals dwelling in farm households, establishments, or on army bases. CPI-U is the idea of the extensively reported CPI numbers that matter to monetary markets.

The BLS additionally publishes the Consumer Price Index for City Wage Earners and Clerical Employees (CPI-W). The CPI-W covers 29% of the U.S. inhabitants dwelling in households with earnings derived predominantly from clerical employment or jobs with an hourly wage.3

CPI-W is used to regulate Social Safety funds in addition to different federal advantages and pensions for adjustments in the price of dwelling.9 It additionally shifts federal earnings tax brackets to make sure taxpayers aren’t subjected to the next marginal fee on account of inflation.3

Consumer Price Index (CPI) Formulation

The extra frequent CPI-U calculation entails two major formulation. The primary is used to find out the present price of the weighted-average basket of merchandise, whereas the second is used to research the year-over-year change.

Annual CPI Components

To calculate the annual CPI, the BLS divides the worth of a selected basket of products at present in comparison with one 12 months in the past:

Annual CPI=Worth of Basket in Present YearValue of Basket in Prior 12 months×100

As talked about earlier, the basket of products and companies used within the CPI calculation is a composite of in style objects generally bought by People. The burden of every element of the basket is in proportion to how they’re bought. The annual CPI is reported as a complete quantity, and the determine is commonly better than 100 (assuming present market costs are appreciating).

Then, the BLS makes use of the present 12 months’s CPI and the prior 12 months’s CPI to calculate the inflation fee.

Inflation Fee=New CPI−Prior CPIPrior CPI×100

The inflation fee could be calculated for a given month or annual interval; in both case, the suitable new and prior interval should be chosen. The inflation fee is reported as a proportion and is commonly optimistic (assuming present market costs are appreciating).


Consumer Price Index (CPI) Classes

The month-to-month CPI launch from the BLS leads with the change from the prior month for the general CPI-U in addition to its key subcategories, together with the unadjusted change year-over-year. The BLS detailed tables present value adjustments for quite a lot of items and companies organized by eight umbrella spending classes.

Subcategories estimate value adjustments for every thing from tomatoes and salad dressing to auto repairs and sporting occasions tickets. Value change for every subcategory is supplied with and with out seasonal adjustment.10 Along with the nationwide CPI indexes, BLS publishes CPI knowledge for U.S. areas, sub-regions, and main metropolitan areas. The metro knowledge is topic to wider fluctuations and is beneficial primarily for figuring out value adjustments based mostly on native situations.11

The desk beneath represents the CPI basket weighted distribution amongst the eight main expense classes. Be aware that some subcategories could also be troublesome to identify inside their main classes. For instance, vehicles are labeled below commodities.12

CPI Classes by Weight as of July 2023
Group Weight
Housing 34.7%
Meals 13.4%
Transportation 5.9%
Commodities 21.3%
Well being Care 6.4%
Vitality 7.0%
Schooling 4.8%
Different Bills 6.5%
Complete Bills 100%
Supply: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Used?

The CPI is extensively utilized by monetary market contributors to gauge inflation and by the Federal Reserve to calibrate its financial coverage. Companies and customers additionally use the CPI to make knowledgeable financial choices. Since CPI measures the change in customers’ buying energy, it’s typically a key think about pay negotiations.

The Federal Reserve

The Fed makes use of CPI knowledge to find out financial coverage. With a goal inflation fee of two%, the Fed could enact expansionary financial coverage to stimulate the financial system ought to market progress gradual, or enact contractionary financial coverage ought to the financial system (and due to this fact costs) develop too shortly. In response to higher-than-desired inflation charges by way of the CPI, the Fed adjusts the Fed funds fee.13

Different Authorities Businesses

The cost-of-living changes (COLAs) based mostly on the CPI have an effect on federal funds to the roughly 70 million People receiving Social Safety and Supplemental Safety Earnings (SSI) advantages. In addition they apply to federal pension funds, college lunch subsidies, and earnings tax brackets.39


Mortgage charges (and different types of long-term debt) are sometimes impacted by charges set by authorities companies. Because the CPI will increase and the federal government enacts coverage adjustments to gradual inflation, charges typically improve. Then again, landlords could use CPI data to adequately assess what annual hire will increase for renters needs to be.1415

Monetary Markets

Monetary market costs are pushed by numerous components. One such issue is the CPI, as reactionary Fed insurance policies instantly influence financial progress, company earnings, and shopper spending capability.3

The next CPI typically implies that a much less stringent authorities coverage is mostly in place. Which means debt is commonly simpler to acquire for cheaper and that people have better spending capability. Then again, decrease or reducing CPI could point out that the federal government could ease coverage that helps increase the financial system.

Labor Markets

The CPI and its elements are additionally used as a deflator for different financial indicators, together with retail gross sales and hourly/weekly earnings, to separate basic change from that reflecting change in costs. Staff could flip to CPI studies when approaching their employers for a elevate based mostly on nationwide will increase in labor charges in addition to pricing.16

Be aware that the CPI is revealed utilizing nationwide knowledge; staff could also be extra suited to utilizing native knowledge to raised perceive their particular scenario. As well as, some employees lined by collective bargaining agreements could have their wages tied to adjustments in CPI.

The BLS studies the CPI on a hard and fast, month-to-month cadence. A schedule of prior and future releases could be discovered on the BLS web site, and the CPI is all the time launched at 8:30 a.m. Japanese Time.17


Consumer Price Index (CPI) vs. Unemployment

Within the broadest sense, the CPI and unemployment charges are sometimes inversely associated. This isn’t all the time the case in each financial system, however the Federal Reserve typically makes an attempt to lower one metric whereas balancing the opposite. For instance, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve took unprecedented supervisory and regulatory actions to stimulate the financial system.18

In consequence, the labor market strengthened and returned to pre-pandemic charges by March 2022; nonetheless, this stimulus has resulted within the highest CPI calculations in a long time.19

On account of higher-than-targeted CPI calculations, the Federal Reserve started elevating rates of interest and tapering sure asset purchases.20 On one hand, these measures purpose to gradual financial progress, make it dearer for customers to amass debt, and stem financial provide progress.

Then again, these further bills could burden households and make corporations much less worthwhile. All else being equal when the Federal Reserve makes an attempt to decrease the CPI, it runs the danger of unintentionally growing unemployment charges.

Critiques of Consumer Price Index (CPI) Methodology

As a result of the CPI Index is so essential to financial coverage and decision-making, its methodology has lengthy been controversial, drawing claims it both understates or overstates inflation. A panel of economists commissioned by Congress to review the problem in 1995 concluded the CPI overstated inflation and was adopted by calculation adjustments to raised replicate substitution results.21

Extra just lately, critics have claimed that changes for adjustments in product high quality and options understate the CPI. Based on the BLS, the notably controversial hedonic changes, which use regression strategies to regulate costs for brand spanking new options on a comparatively small proportion of the CPI objects, have a internet impact near zero on the index.22

As the normal CPI-U calculation solely measures inflation for city populations, it stays a less-than-reliable supply of knowledge for people dwelling in rural areas. As well as, the CPI doesn’t explicitly state how completely different demographics could also be impacted by inflation. For instance, hovering schooling prices could adversely influence youthful people, whereas the influence of accelerating aged care prices is felt by a unique group of people.

This notion can be extensively attributable to people with various levels of earnings. For instance, lower-income people who contribute extra gross earnings in the direction of requirements of shelter and meals will skew in a different way than households with bigger disposable earnings. For that reason, the CPI could not adequately replicate every particular person’s expertise in regard to prices and adjustments over time.


What Is the Present CPI?

The annual change within the CPI was 3.2% for the 12-month interval ending July 2023. This was a 0.2% improve from the earlier month.8


How Is the Consumer Price Index Used?

The CPI Index is an inflation indicator intently watched by policymakers and monetary markets. A associated CPI measure is used to calculate cost-of-living changes for federal profit funds.


How Is the CPI Calculated?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics samples 80,000 costs month-to-month to calculate the CPI, weighing the index for every services or products in proportion to its share of current shopper spending to calculate the general change in costs. The calculation additionally components within the substitution impact as customers shift spending away from the merchandise rising in value on a relative foundation. The CPI additionally adjusts for adjustments in product high quality and options. The numbers are supplied with and with out seasonal changes.


What Are Some Criticisms of the CPI?

Over time, the CPI has regularly drawn criticism that it has both understated or overstated inflation. As a result of the CPI is predicated on shopper spending, it would not observe third-party reimbursements for healthcare and considerably underweights healthcare relative to its proportion within the GDP consequently. Then again, criticism in regards to the high quality changes used within the CPI has been extensively discounted by economists.

The Backside Line

The Consumer Price Index is a vital financial metric. It measures the common change in costs paid by customers over a time period for a basket of products and companies. The index is calculated and revealed month-to-month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s among the many most typical measures of inflation, indicating the well being and path of the financial system. It additionally serves in different capacities, notably to assist make changes to sure earnings funds, resembling Social Safety and pensions for federal civil service retirees.


Liberty Magazine requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index.”
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Producer Price Indexes.”
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Indexes Overview.”
  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index Frequently Asked Questions,” Select “How and when are CPI prices collected and reviewed?”
  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Measuring Price Change in the CPI: Rent and Rental Equivalence.”
  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Frequently Asked Questions about the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U),” Select “What is substitution and substitution bias? And does the C-CPI-U eliminate it?”
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index Frequently Asked Questions,” Select “Is the CPI a cost-of-living index?”
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index – July 2023,” Page 1.
  9. Social Security Administration. “Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Information.”
  10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index Frequently Asked Questions,” Select “What goods and services does the CPI cover?”
  11. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index Frequently Asked Questions,” Select “What area indexes are published and how often?”
  12. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index – July 2023,” Pages 9-16.
  13. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “FAQs: Why Does the Federal Reserve Aim for Inflation of 2 Percent Over the Longer Run?
  14. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “How to Use the Consumer Price Index for Escalation.”
  15. The White House. “Housing Prices and Inflation.”
  16. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index Frequently Asked Questions,” Select “How is the CPI used?”
  17. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Schedule of Releases for the Consumer Price Index.”
  18. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Supervisory and Regulatory Actions in Response to COVID-19.”
  19. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, FRED Economic Data. “Unemployment Rate.”
  20. Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, FRED Economic Data. “Federal Funds Effective Rate.”
  21. Social Security Administration. “Reports & Studies Archive: The Boskin Commission Report.”
  22. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Consumer Price Index Data Quality: How Accurate Is the U.S. CPI?
Prepare and write by:

Author: Mohammed A Bazzoun

If you have any more specific questions, feel free to ask in comments.


For More Article

Liberty Magazine – Economic Website

Liberty Magazine – English Website

Liberty Magazine


Follow us


Economic             The Magazine           Lebanon Magazine    

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top