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Metro area prices rise as housing costs move up 

Gas station attendant pumps gas into a vehicle

Gas station attendant pumps gas into a vehicle in Smithtown. Credit: Steve Pfost

Consumer prices in the metropolitan area increased modestly in March compared with a year earlier on higher housing costs.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday its consumer price index for the 25-county region that includes Long Island climbed 2% last month compared with March 2019.

The index posted annualized gains of 2.5% in January and 2.4% in February.

Housing prices were up 2.6% in March from a year ago. While other spending categories rose by higher percentages, housing costs are given greater weight in the price index because housing represents a larger percentage of most consumers’ budgets.   

Grocery prices climbed 0.6% last month compared with March 2019. Medical care and recreation costs increased 5.3% and 4.7% respectively.

School tuition and day care fees were up 4.3%, year over year. Alcohol prices were up 2.9%, while automobile insurance rose 3.9%.

The increases were partially offset by declines in the cost of gasoline, electricity and natural gas, which fell 5.7%, 1.5% and 2.2%, respectively, year over year.  Apparel prices dropped 0.2%

Martin Kohli, the bureau’s chief regional economist, said Friday the price declines cannot be attributed to the coronavirus, which spread rapidly in March in the metro area.

He said the virus did lead the bureau to use other methods to collect price data instead of store visits as of March 16. Data was collected via online research and telephone calls, he said.

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