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Inflation inequality in the United States

  • Bart Hobijn
  • David Lagakos

Inflation is often assumed to affect all people in the same way. In practice, differences in spending patterns across households and differences in price increases across goods and services lead to unequal levels of inflation for different households. In this paper, we measure the degree of inequality in inflation across U.S. households for the period 1987-2001. ; Our results suggest that the inflation experiences of U.S. households vary significantly. Most of the differences can be traced to changes in the relative prices of education, health care, and gasoline. We find that cost of living increases are generally higher for the elderly, in large part because of their health care expenditures, and that the cost of living for poor households is most sensitive to (the historically large) fluctuations in gasoline prices. To our surprise, we also find that those households that experience high inflation in one year do not generally face high inflation in the next year. That is, we do not find much household-specific persistence in inflation disparities.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of New York in its series Staff Reports with number 173.

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Date of creation: 2003
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fednsr:173
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  1. Pollak, Robert A, 1980. "Group Cost-of-Living Indexes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 70(2), pages 273-78, May.
  2. David E. Lebow & Jeremy B. Rudd, 2003. "Measurement Error in the Consumer Price Index: Where Do We Stand?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 159-201, March.
  3. Stephen G. Cecchetti, 1996. "Measuring Short-Run Inflation for Central Bankers," NBER Working Papers 5786, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Quah, Danny, 1993. "Empirical cross-section dynamics in economic growth," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(2-3), pages 426-434, April.
  5. Michael, Robert T, 1979. "Variation across Households in the Rate of Inflation," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 11(1), pages 32-46, February.
  6. Berndt Ernst R. & Cockburn Iain M. & Cocks Douglas L. & Epstein Arnold M. & Griliches Zvi, 1998. "Is Price Inflation Different for the Elderly? An Empirical Analysis of Prescription Drugs," Forum for Health Economics & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-45, January.
  7. Robert T. Michael, 1975. "Variation Across Household in the Rate of Inflation," NBER Working Papers 0074, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Quah, Danny T, 1997. " Empirics for Growth and Distribution: Stratification, Polarization, and Convergence Clubs," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 2(1), pages 27-59, March.
  9. Hagemann, Robert P, 1982. "The Variability of Inflation Rates across Household Types," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 14(4), pages 494-510, November.
  10. Quah, Danny, 1997. "Empirics for Growth and Distribution: Stratification, Polarization, and Convergence Clubs," CEPR Discussion Papers 1586, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. Bart Hobijn & David Lagakos, 2003. "Social security and the consumer price index for the elderly," Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, vol. 9(May).
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