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Who says inflation is dead?
Consumer prices, we're told, aren't on the rise. Why, then, are you feeling so squeezed?
March 21, 2005: 1:14 PM EST
By Sarah Max, CNN/Money Staff Writer

This article originally ran May 2 and was updated May 15.

New York (CNN/Money) -- It sure seems dead. During the past 12 months, consumer prices have risen a mere 1.7 percent, matching a 37-year low. And on Thursday, the Labor Department said its producer price index (PPI) fell 1.9 percent -- the biggest drop since the department began tracking the numbers.

Companies are practically giving away cars, clothing, computers and televisions. Fast-food restaurants hand out burgers for a buck.

But for the average person, inflation is alive and well.

"The theme is most goods are going down in price and most services are going up," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial Services. "College tuition, insurance, transportation and healthcare...these are all items where prices have gone up noticeably."

Spiraling heathcare costs are of particular concern to economists monitoring consumer prices. Unlike energy prices, which are up one month and down the next, there's no turning back here. In fact, according to a 2002 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, U.S. healthcare expenditures have increased 87 percent since 1990 and are more than five times what they were in 1980.

And if you're footing the bill for college tuition, you most certainly feel a little light in the bank account. The average annual cost for a four-year public school went up 9.6 percent this school year to $4,081, according to the College Board. Among private schools average costs rose 5.8 percent to $18,273.

Here's a look at some other places you may be feeling squeezed.

In your home

  • Homeowners insurance, for one, has gone through the roof. According to a Consumer Federation of America survey of states, homeowners insurance rose an average of 13 percent in 2002 with premiums in Texas up a whopping 57 percent.
  • The nation's largest long-distance carriers have been raising prices for many of their plans by a penny or two a minute, not to mention introducing new fees. (See "Phone rates on the rise.")
  • Property taxes have climbed sharply, with double-digit increases on assessment rates in some cities. In New York City property taxes jumped 18.5 percent this year. Rising home values only make matters worse. Sure your house might be worth more, but that does little good until you sell. In the meantime, you're paying more in annual taxes. And you may be paying a little more for such things as garbage pick up, which now carries a $10 service fee in some cities.
  • Fast-food and bulk food notwithstanding, you may be paying more to put food on the table. In the first three months of 2003, prices for cereal and bakery products rose at an annual rate of 9.6 percent. Kellogg raised prices of its cookies and crackers by 3 percent to 4 percent in late 2002, citing higher costs for ingredients and employee benefits. Hershey's and Mars chocolate bars went up by a nickel to dime, in this case because of unrest in the cocoa-producing Ivory Coast.

In your car, on the train

  • Gas prices have fallen in recent weeks but we're still paying more to fill up than we did a year ago. According to the American Automobile Association's fuel gauge report, the national average for regular unleaded gas is about $1.51 a gallon, still about 11 cents more than a year ago.
  • State and local budget woes have led to higher tolls and public transportation costs in many parts of the country. Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and Salt Lake City are among many cities considering raising the price of public transportation, and New York City will be reviewing whether it can reinstate its hike from $1.50 to $2 for bus and subway rides. (As if higher subway fares weren't enough of a blow, New Yorkers are now paying an extra 25 cents each day to read the New York Times, though the Post is still a quarter on weekdays.)
  • Even parking your car has gotten more pricey in some cities. In Denver, the city has installed more parking meters, extended the hours in which drivers need to pay, raised the price of parking tickets by $5 and increased parking meter rates jumped by 50 cents to $1 with some meters eating $1.50 an hour.

Out on the town

  • You're probably paying more to go to a concert or see a blockbuster on the big screen. "The price of admission to movie theaters and concerts went up 6.8 percent," said Malik Crawford, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, referring to year-over-year numbers from March. "That's a huge jump."
  • The average price of sporting events has stayed about the same, according to Crawford, but some fans will pay more to see their favorite teams. Green Bay Packers tickets recently went up $4, bringing the cheapest seats in Lambeau Field to $50. The average ticket price to see the Anaheim Angles on their home field rose from $17 to $21, not including a new $5 surcharge for certain games. Season tickets for the Detroit Pistons are slated to go up as well, in some cases by as much as $300 for the season.
  • You could just stay home and watch the game on cable. But, oh, that's getting more expensive as well. Basic cable is in many places about $5 more a month than it was last year. In Quincy, Mass., for example, they just went up $7 a month. In Dubuque, Iowa monthly rates jumped from about $37 to $42 in February and are expected to go up again this month.
  • Even Mickey Mouse is commanding more money these days. In January, Disneyland increased the price of admissions by $2 to $47.
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