This story was reported by John Asbury, James T. Madore, Ken Schachter and Sarina Trangle. It was written by Madore.
Long Islanders are paying far more for the staples of life than they did a year ago: gasoline is up nearly 40% and groceries are up 7.6%.
The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday its consumer price index for the 25-county region that includes the Island climbed 5.1% last month compared with January 2021. That’s the largest year-over-year rise in 13 years.
Nationwide, consumer prices increased at their fastest annual rate in 40 years: 7.5% in January compared with a year earlier.
What to know
- Consumer prices in the New York region increased 5.1% in January compared with a year earlier, the fastest rate of growth in 13 years.
- But the consumer price index for the metro area grew more slowly than the nationwide index because residential rents didn’t rise as much.
- Among the items with the biggest price increases were gasoline, groceries, used automobiles and electricity.
Still, the metro area’s slower rate of inflation is little comfort to residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
"I’m living on Social Security and this is insane," said Linda Gambino, 67, of Glen Cove. "I wouldn’t be surprised if [gasoline] is $5 by summer."
Gambino, who is retired, said higher prices are eating into her standard of living. She said the cost of many food items has risen while others, such as coffee and toilet paper, are the same price for smaller packages.
"What can you do?" Gambino said Thursday outside the T.J. Maxx store in Greenvale. "You need to buy."
Retailers also are being squeezed. They face higher prices from manufacturers and farms as well as a shortage of employees and supplies.
In Farmingdale, Main Street Meats is paying more for meat and in employee wages.
"It’s been an issue for years," said vice president of operations Mike Mihalko. But "this year, each level of the supply chain has had issues and we don’t think the raises everyone is getting are getting walked back. These prices are going to be here for a while," he said.
Main Street Meats has hiked its prices slightly, but Mihalko said the business tries to limit the increases it passes on to about 50 cents on the dollar to cushion the blow on customers.
A 16% rise in the price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs in January compared with a year earlier helped to drive up the overall cost of groceries in the New York area, according to Martin Kohli, chief regional economist at the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces the consumer price index.
There also were big price increases for cereals and bakery products, up 8.6%, and nonalcoholic beverages, up 6.6%.
The cost of restaurant meals rose 7.4% last month compared with January 2021.
Kohli said the price hikes for gasoline and food in the metropolitan area, along with other consumer goods, mirrored the nationwide increases.
A notable exception is residential rents, which edged up 0.6% in the metro area, year over year, compared with 3.8% in the country.
"The rent numbers are going up much more nationally than they are locally," Kohli said. "And because 35% of household expenditures are for shelter — that’s why the overall [price index] numbers are so different" between the New York area and the nation.
He said while other spending categories rose by higher percentages, residential rent is given greater value in the price index because housing represents a larger percentage of most consumers’ budgets. The index doesn’t include mortgage costs.
Area rents may be climbing more slowly but they’re still having an impact.
Dan Martorano, 63, of Port Washington said his housing costs keep rising. "The rent goes up every year," he said outside a Target store.
The rental cost cited in the regional price index is affected by developments in New York City, the region’s largest market for apartments, townhouses and condominiums.
The city’s rental market was hit hard by the coronavirus as people sought communities with smaller populations in 2020, such as Long Island, Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. But the market is rebounding, though it lags the national recovery by at least six months, according to Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of the property appraisal firm Miller Samuel Inc.
Miller said the number of people moving into New York City began picking up in early 2021 when COVID-19 vaccines became available.
"The city is a significant part of the regional economy… I think that that is weighing down the year-over-year numbers that came out" in the price index, Miller said.
Relatively few Long Islanders rent their homes. More than 80% are homeowners, according to census data.
Few apartments have been available since a crush of city residents moved to Nassau and Suffolk early in the pandemic, said Wendy Sanders, a sales agent for the Douglas Elliman real estate company.
Among the other goods and services with eye-popping price increases are used automobiles, up 41.6% between last month and January 2021 and electricity, up 20.2%.
The higher cost of almost everything has been an unwelcome side effect of the pandemic for business owners and consumers alike.
For 35 years, Harry Cohen has owned The Chocolate Duck, a maker of cakes and chocolates on Main Street in Farmingdale.
"I couldn’t imagine the last two years," he said, citing price increases by suppliers and a shortage of ingredients and gift boxes. "I’m not sure I see an end in sight."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect title for Mike Mihalko, vice president of operations at Main Street Meats in Farmingdale.