President Joe Biden boasted on X last week that America’s inflation rate is “among the lowest in the world.” In his State of the Union address, he pronounced, “Wages keep going up and inflation keeps coming down.” Inflation stood at 3.2 percent in February, and the most recent (January) number for the Tampa, Florida, metro area, where I live, is  3.9 percent. Biden is correct in pointing out that many countries have higher inflation rates (though other leading economies, notably Germany, Japan, and China, enjoy lower rates). But there’s a good reason that many Americans are in a collectively sour mood. 

Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS) figures assert, for example, that the cost of electricity in the Tampa metro area declined 6 percent from January 2023 to January 2024. That’s interesting, because my Duke Energy bill went from $245 to $343 per month, a 40 percent increase over that time span. Biden has boasted on the campaign trail that his administration has lowered health-care costs. National BLS figures from February say that the cost of health insurance is down almost 20 percent year over year. Perhaps so, particularly for those on Obamacare, but not for families like mine who have insurance through an employer. Our insurance is up 3 percent compared with last year, but my wife’s employer’s share of the tab, according to her paystub, is up 21 percent.

BLS numbers say the cost of medical care in my region has risen 6.3 percent year over year. Only that much? My 16-year-old injured his hand recently and, even though we pay more than $600 a month for health insurance, our portion of the bill to get his hand put in a splint at a nearby Emergency Room exceeded $1,100, though we never saw a doctor and the procedure took about 15 minutes. The cost of eating at home has supposedly risen just 2.2 percent in Tampa and only 1 percent nationally. I added up our grocery bills from my credit card statements for the first two months of 2024 and found that our costs have risen 12.1 percent compared with 2023—even as we’re now more diligent in looking for sale-priced items and greatly cut back on trips to Whole Foods, while increasing our grocery expenditures at Wal-Mart.

BLS figures for Tampa include the inflation rates for categories like cereal and bakery products (3.2 percent), apparel (-4.6 percent), and used cars and trucks (-4.2 percent), though most families won’t buy a vehicle in a given year. But there’s no data on the soaring cost of (mandatory) auto and homeowner’s insurance, which is also required for those with a mortgage. Auto insurance has risen just over 20 percent in a year nationally, and mine has gone up even more, as we added a 16-year-old to our policy, more than doubling our rate. Our homeowner’s insurance rose from $3,300 to more than $5,900 when UPC, our insurer, suspended operations in Florida and our policy rolled over to Slide, another company. We eventually found a new policy for $4,100, which is still a 24 percent increase.

An economist at BLS told me that metro area car-insurance inflation rates aren’t published, but the cost is factored into the area inflation rate. Homeowner’s insurance isn’t factored into that rate, she said, because it is “outside the scope of the consumer price index.” She said “part of the weight” of rising homeowner’s insurance is “captured” using spending data collected in consumer expenditure surveys. Go figure.

BLS says that household insurance rose just 4 percent nationally in the past year, though here in Florida, it went up by 42 percent in 2023. But the relative weight that BLS attaches to household insurance is just 0.413, similar to garbage collection (0.327) and beef and veal expenditures (0.457). We could probably eat Kobe beef every day and still spend more on insurance, so this weighting for Florida is clearly off.

The relative weight for auto insurance is 2.82, similar to that of apparel (2.54) and electricity (2.48), which also seems off, particularly in Florida and for families with young drivers on their policies. Like many Floridians, I’m also required to purchase flood insurance, another expense rising rapidly that BLS is apparently unaware of.

Florida was the fastest-growing state in the country in 2022 and the second-fastest, behind South Carolina, in 2023. Rapid population growth obviously affects inflation, but I’ve noticed it in slow-growing Buffalo, New York, where my parents live, too. For example, over the Easter weekend I took my mother to the Original Pancake House for her favorite dish, the Dutch baby, which now costs $16.50. A quick look through photos of old menus on Google revealed that four years ago, the dish cost just $10.55.  

This may read like a bit of a personal rant. Perhaps it is, but while I’m at it, how about trying to get anything fixed lately, particularly in a fast-growing region like Tampa, where quality tradespeople are in short supply. A few examples: paying $290 to replace the arm of an 18-month-old, out-of-warranty Samsung microwave that cost me $320; almost a grand for a brake job; or $2,400 for a new pool pump. Yes, I know I’m lucky to have a pool, but hey, this is Florida: there are people begging for spare change in the Target parking lot who have in-ground pools.

Consumer spending increased by 5.9 percent in 2023, even as many families like mine cut back on discretionary spending and turned to discount retailers. I understand why the president and other Democrats need to keep reassuring us that inflation is cooling, and perhaps in some parts of the country it is. But where I live, it remains as toasty as a Florida summer, and BLS data seems to be about as reliable as Biden’s memory.

Photo: Malte Mueller/fStop via Getty Images


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