Consumer prices in the U.S. rose a modest 2.9 percent in July from a year ago, as inflation rose gradually but slowly.
Friday’s Labor Department report showed the Consumer Price Index, a broad measure of Americans’ living expenses, increased two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy prices, rose at the same pace.
The main driver of inflation in July was higher housing costs. Food expenses increased slightly, while energy, medical care and clothing prices fell modestly.
The data showed that prices were rising a little faster than wages, leaving the buying power of paychecks one-tenth of a percentage point lower today than a year ago, despite an otherwise healthy economy.
Inflation increases and wage declines in the past 12 months can be blamed on higher oil, gasoline and transportation costs, which had remained at relatively low levels for the previous six years.
Keeping inflation in check is the job of the Federal Reserve, the central bank system of the U.S. It tries to do that by raising interest rates, which makes it more expensive to borrow money and tends to cool economic activity. Lower levels of commerce tend to reduce the pressure to raise prices and wages that fuel inflation.
The Fed already has raised interest rates twice this year, and many economists expect two more interest rate hikes this year. Higher borrowing costs, however, would make it more difficult for the economy to sustain the 3 percent growth rate President Donald Trump promised to voters.