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Understanding U.S. Inflation During the COVID Era


  • Laurence M. Ball
  • Daniel Leigh
  • Prachi Mishra


This paper analyzes the dramatic rise in U.S. inflation since 2020, which we decompose into a rise in core inflation as measured by the weighted median inflation rate and deviations of headline inflation from core. We explain the rise in core with two factors, the tightening of the labor market as captured by the ratio of job vacancies to unemployment, and the pass-through into core from past shocks to headline inflation. The headline shocks themselves are explained largely by increases in energy prices and by supply chain problems as captured by backlogs of orders for goods and services. Looking forward, we simulate the future path of inflation for alternative paths of the unemployment rate, focusing on the projections of Federal Reserve policymakers in which unemployment rises only modestly to 4.4 percent. We find that this unemployment path returns inflation to near the Fed’s target only under optimistic assumptions about both inflation expectations and the Beveridge curve relating the unemployment and vacancy rates. Under less benign assumptions about these factors, the inflation rate remains well above target unless unemployment rises by more than the Fed projects.

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  • Laurence M. Ball & Daniel Leigh & Prachi Mishra, 2022. "Understanding U.S. Inflation During the COVID Era," NBER Working Papers 30613, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:30613
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Marijn A Bolhuis & Judd N L Cramer & Lawrence H Summers, 2022. "Comparing Past and Present Inflation [Supply and demand in disaggregated Keynesian economies with an application to the covid-19 crisis]," Review of Finance, European Finance Association, vol. 26(5), pages 1073-1100.
    2. Laurence Ball & Sandeep Mazumder, 2019. "A Phillips Curve with Anchored Expectations and Short‐Term Unemployment," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 51(1), pages 111-137, February.
    3. Julian di Giovanni & Ṣebnem Kalemli-Özcan & Alvaro Silva & Muhammed A. Yildirim, 2022. "Global Supply Chain Pressures, International Trade, and Inflation," NBER Working Papers 30240, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Jim Dolmas & Evan F. Koenig, 2019. "Two Measures of Core Inflation: A Comparison," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, vol. 101(4).
    5. Laurence Ball & Sandeep Mazumder, 2021. "A Phillips curve for the euro area," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(1), pages 2-17, April.
    6. Jim Dolmas, 2005. "Trimmed mean PCE inflation," Working Papers 0506, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
    7. Régis Barnichon & Luiz E. Oliveira & Adam Hale Shapiro, 2021. "Is the American Rescue Plan Taking Us Back to the ’60s?," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, vol. 2021(27), pages 1-06, October.
    8. Olivier J Blanchard & Alex Domash & Lawrence H. Summers, 2022. "Bad news for the Fed from the Beveridge space," Policy Briefs PB22-7, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    9. Severin Borenstein & A. Colin Cameron & Richard Gilbert, 1997. "Do Gasoline Prices Respond Asymmetrically to Crude Oil Price Changes?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 112(1), pages 305-339.
    10. Alex Domash & Lawrence H. Summers, 2022. "How Tight are U.S. Labor Markets?," NBER Working Papers 29739, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    1. Juan Andres Espinosa-Torres & Jaime Ramirez-Cuellar, 2023. "The Effects of the Pandemic on Market Power and Profitability," Papers 2303.08765,
    2. Chendi Ni & Yuying Li & Peter A. Forsyth, 2023. "Neural Network Approach to Portfolio Optimization with Leverage Constraints:a Case Study on High Inflation Investment," Papers 2304.05297,, revised May 2023.
    3. Harding, Martín & Lindé, Jesper & Trabandt, Mathias, 2023. "Understanding post-COVID inflation dynamics," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 140(S), pages 101-118.
    4. Saeed, Asif & Chaudhry, Sajid M. & Arif, Ahmed & Ahmed, Rizwan, 2023. "Spillover of energy commodities and inflation in G7 plus Chinese economies," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(PA).
    5. Jacques Sapir, 2023. "The Macroeconomic Impact of the New Geopolitical Deal on the French Economy," Studies on Russian Economic Development, Springer, vol. 34(3), pages 308-319, June.
    6. St-Pierre, Marc, 2023. "On market power and inflation," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 226(C).

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    JEL classification:

    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation

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