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Metro area consumer prices increase, driven by higher cost of food, gas

Grocery prices climbed 2.7% in March compared with

Grocery prices climbed 2.7% in March compared with a year ago. The largest increases were for milk and other dairy products, up 5.6%; fruit and vegetables, 4.8%; and nonalcoholic beverages, 4.6%. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Consumer prices in the metropolitan area increased in March year over year at the highest rate seen since the coronavirus struck.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Tuesday its consumer price index for the 25-county region that includes Long Island rose 2% last month compared with March 2020 when New York State shut down the economy to slow the virus’ spread.

The price index also rose 2% in March 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. However, from April 2020 through February, the year-over-year increases in the index have been smaller, averaging 1.5%.

Martin Kohli, the bureau’s chief regional economist said Tuesday the cost of food and gasoline is behind last month’s rise in the price index.

Grocery prices climbed 2.7% in March compared with a year ago. The largest increases were for milk and other dairy products, up 5.6%; fruit and vegetables, 4.8%; and nonalcoholic beverages, 4.6%.

The cost of restaurant meals was up 5.3%, year over year. That’s the biggest increase since 2008.

Gasoline prices rose 15.8% last month compared with March 2020. Natural gas was up 6.8%.

Residential rents increased 0.3%, the smallest year-over-year increase since 1958.

The same was true with January’s increase and is largely driven by a slowdown in the Manhattan rental market due to pandemic-related job losses and residents moving to Long Island and other suburbs, real estate experts said.

The cost of automobiles and home furnishings rose in March 9.2% and 6.5%, respectively.

These increases were partially offset by declines in the price of electricity, 4.9%; auto insurance, 2%; and cereal and baked goods, 0.1%.

Nationwide, the price index rose 2.6% last month compared with March 2020 in part because of a 22.5% increases in the cost of gasoline.

"Energy prices have grown substantially for five consecutive months driven by stronger demand," said Curt Long, chief economist for the Washington trade group National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions.

He said last month's increase in consumer prices isn't likely to lead to a rise in interest rates by the Federal Reserve "until at least 2023."

Long said, "The year-over-year figure for inflation rose dramatically in March, but that is primarily a base effect due to the year-ago collapse in prices" because of COVID-19.

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