School supplies and inflation: Price data gives parents relief

Prices on most goods may be a lot higher than a year ago, but it’s important to remember that not everything is undergoing sky-high inflation.

WASHINGTON — Story from The Conversation by Jay L. Zagorsky, Senior Lecturer, Questrom School of Business, Boston University.

As summer draws to a close, it is time for many to think about back-to-school shopping, such as notebooks, backpacks and new clothes.

As an economist who has studied consumer prices for years, I wondered how soaring inflation was affecting the costs of typical back-to-school gear.

Consumer prices rose by about 8.5% in July from a year earlier, according to the latest data released on Aug. 10, 2022. But this figure is only an average. The price of some items, like airline fares and gasoline, has jumped a lot more than that, while the cost of other items, like the price of televisions and phones, have actually fallen.

To determine how the cost of paying for what school children need has changed, I tracked two sets of prices: First, the cost of back-to-school necessities. Second, the price of school lunches – since learning on an empty belly is hard.

Clothes and backpacks

Children often seem to sprout during summer vacation. This growth typically means they need new clothes for fall’s cooler weather. The U.S. government’s consumer price index has been following the price of both girls’ and boys’ clothes since 1977.

Government data shows the price of girls’ clothing peaked in 1992. The price of boys’ clothes peaked six years later, in 1998. Not only are clothes cheaper today than they were in the 1990s, but over the last 12 months prices for girls’ clothes have increased by less than 2% – compared with overall inflation of 8.5%. The price of boys’ clothes,

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