Frequently Asked Questions

What is the inflation rate?

Inflation is an increase in the overall level of prices, measured by a price index. The rate of inflation is a measure of how fast prices are rising, it is computed as the percentage change in the level of price index between two time periods.

What is Consumer Price Index (CPI)?

The consumer price index (CPI) is a widely used measure of the overall price level, calculated using a representative basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor collects the price information and constructs the CPI index. The selection of goods and services used to construct CPI, commonly referred to as the "market basket", is based upon actual consumer purchasing patterns, which are determined from a survey of consumer expenditures. Goods and services in the market basket are weighted according to the share they constitute of total consumer spending. The weights of the main expenditure categories can be seen in the CPI inflation components part of the dashboard. 

What are the CPI-U and the CPI-W?

BLS constructs two versions of the CPI index, for two population groups:

  1. All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)
  2. Urban Wage and Clerical Workers (CPI-W)

The CPI-U is intended to measure consumer price inflation for all U.S. residents of urban areas, which accounts for about 93% of the U.S. population. The CPI-W is used to measure consumer price inflation for a subset of the CPI-U population - residents of urban areas who live in households that receive more than half of their income from clerical or wage occupations a have one earner employed for at least 37 weeks during the previous 12 months. The CPI-U thus includes, in addition to wage earners and clerical workers included in CPI-W, groups such as professional, managerial, and technical workers, the self-employed, short-term workers, the unemployed, and retirees and others not in the labor force. The CPI-W covers about 29% of the U.S. population. The CPI-U is the most commonly used index because it has the broadest population coverage, but CPI-W is often used to make cost-of-living adjustments for labor contracts.

What is the Seattle CPI?

In addition to the national CPI, the BLS publishes CPI statistics for 26 of the nation's metropolitan areas. CPI-U and CPI-W are thus available for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metropolitan area, which includes King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.

How often are CPI data published?

U.S. CPI data is published each month, Seattle metropolitan area CPI data is published every other month beginning with February.

How do you use the CPI to measure inflation between two time periods?

To compute the rate of inflation between two time periods, calculate the percent change in the appropriate CPI index from the first period to the second period. The following example computes the change in the Seattle CPI-U from 1998 to 2003:

1998 Seattle CPI-U index 167.7
2003 Seattle CPI-U index 192.3
Calculation (192.3 - 167.7) / 167.7 * 100 = 14.7

Thus, prices as measured by Seattle area CPI-U increased by 14.7% between 1998 and 2003.

How is CPI used for annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs)?

Information about annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for most City labor contracts can be found here.

How do you inflate a past dollar value into present-day dollars?

To inflate a past dollar value into present-day dollars, multiply the past dollar value by the ratio of the present year CPI to the past year CPI. For example, assume you want to know what a $1,000 in 1993 would be worth in 2003, based on Seattle area inflation.

1993 Seattle CPI-U index 142.9
2003 Seattle CPI-U index 192.3
Calculation $1,000.00 * (192.3 / 142.9) = $1,345.7

Thus $1,000 in 1993 is equivalent to $1,345.7 in 2003.

How do you deflate a future dollar value into present-day dollars?

To deflate a future dollar value into present day dollars, multiply the future dollar value by the ratio of the current year CPI index to the future year CPI index. For example, assume you want to want to know what a $1,000 received in 2026 would be worth in 2023, given a forecast for CPI in 2025.

2023 Seattle CPI-U index 340.845
2026 Seattle CPI-U index forecast 374.924
Calculation $1,000 * (340.845 / 374.924) = $909.1

Thus $1,000 in 2026 is equivalent to $909.1 in 2023.

Where can I find more information about the CPI?

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website contains extensive information on the CPI, including explanations of the methodology and also provides access to historical CPI data:

Office of Economic and Revenue Forecasts

Jan Duras, Interim Director
Address: 700 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98124
Phone: (206) 390-1567

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