Buying clothes or filling the tank with gasoline got cheaper during the pandemic, but the cost of getting a full stomach, that was a different story.
An index of prices for meat, poultry, fish and eggs shot up 8.8% between March and May in metro Denver, and up 9.5% over the past year, according to the Consumer Price Index for Denver-Aurora-Lakewood from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 at meatpacking plants across the country resulted in closures, including a two-week pause at the JBS plant in Greeley. Although plants came back online, they did so at reduced capacity. The lack of supply has pushed up retail prices, costing consumers more without benefitting the producers who raised the animals.
Food prices jumped in other categories during the shutdown, but not as much. Cereals and bakery products were up 0.6%, fruit and vegetable costs rose 0.4%, and nonalcoholic beverages were up only 0.2% The cost of dairy products dropped by 3.9%, but they remain up 9.9% over the past year.
Food costs overall were up 1.6% in metro Denver during that two-month span, with the cost of eating at home up 1.2%, while the cost of dining out, not that there were many options to do so, up 2.1%. Food prices are up 4.8% over the past year.
The price index for alcoholic beverages, which home-bound consumers imbibed in larger quantities between March and May, fell 0.3% during the March to May period, and are up 0.3% on the year.
Overall, consumer inflation for metro Denver rose 0.5% between March and May and is up 1.9% over the year, way above than the 0.1% annual rate measured nationally. Of the major metro areas where the BLS tracks inflation, metro Denver currently has the highest inflation rate.
It would have been even higher, except for price declines in several areas, chief among them transportation costs, which fell 3.5% during the lockdown and are down 11% over the year. Gasoline prices fell 13.7% between March and May, and are down 36.4% over the past year. Auto insurance premiums also fell.
Apparel costs fell 5.8% between March and May as consumers cut back on discretionary spending and retailers shut down. Now that they are reopening, many retailers are stuck with inventories that are out of season.
Dean Baker, a senior economist with the Center for Policy and Economic Research, cautioned in an analysis that consumers shouldn’t get too used to falling prices.
“The May CPI will likely be the last one showing large pandemic-related price declines. Many of the sectors that showed the sharpest declines, such as gasoline, airfares, and apparel, are likely to show rises in June and the rest of the summer,” he said.
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