Trump’s Inflation Data

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Donald Trump presents price data that is accurate, as far as it goes.

In a press conference on August 15, 2024, Donald J. Trump presented price data on a series of large cards. Trump’s charts were titled “Price Increases,” and that accurately describes the data. However, it’s important to clarify that while these charts show price increases, they don’t necessarily reflect inflation, which is a specific economic measure.

Inflation refers to the rate at which prices increase over time, usually expressed as an annual rate. For example, if the price of eggs rises from \$2.00 to \$3.25, that’s a price increase of \$1.25, or 62.5 percent. If this increase happens in one year, the inflation rate is 62.5 percent. If it happens over two years, the rate would be 27.5 percent, and if over three years, it would be 17.6 percent. (1)This is the annual rate when compounded monthly.

In Table 1, Trump’s data is in columns (a) through (c). Column (c) appears to be based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor. This agency has been collecting price data for decades, with some data beginning in 1913.

For column (d), I computed the price change based on CPI data, matching Trump’s data as closely as possible (details shown below). For column (e), I computed the annual inflation rate based on column (d). I added the rows for “Food at Home” and “All items” for additional context.

Notably, columns (c) and (d) are very close in value, probably differing for the reasons given below. These columns, as explained above, hold price change values, not inflation rate. I computed that in column (e).

What’s interesting about Trump’s data is that it is accurate and likely based on CPI figures. This is a departure from his usual rhetoric, where he might say something like, “Bacon’s gone up like five.” However, Trump tends to blur the distinction between a simple price increase and the more complex concept of the inflation rate.
Trump is wrong, however, when he gives the impression that a price increase is the same as the inflation rate.

Method

Trump didn’t specify the time frame for the data, other than “since Kamala Harris took office.” I used February 2021 and July 2024 as the dates. I matched Trump’s items as closely as possible to CPI series. I computed the percent change, and then the compounded annual change. I show a summary in Table 1, and more detail in Table 2.

Sometimes there wasn’t an exact match between the way Trump described items and what is available in CPI data. Also, many items have seasonally adjusted data and not seasonally adjusted, and the Trump data doesn’t specify which was used. I use seasonally adjusted data if it is available. Table 2 shows the data I used.

Examples of Trump’s claims

June 9, 2024: We want no inflation, not 30 or 50% inflation, which is what you had. Think of it. You were destroyed. People were destroyed with the inflation. I don’t even order bacon anymore. Bacon’s gone up like five. I said, it’s too expensive, I don’t want it. I don’t want it. … I think your inflation, your real inflation is way over 50%, and I believe that.

June 24, 2024: Inflation is a disaster. It’s a country-buster. It’s a total country-buster. And when you look at the prices of eggs and bacon, it’s gone up 100%. Much more than that in some cases.

June 6, 2024: Eggs, all of this stuff, it’s gone up at levels that nobody has ever seen before, but I believe the energy’s going to bring it down. I think we can bring it down, and then once it starts that spiral, it’s going to be a beautiful thing because when they say we’re at 4% now, they’re not including the fact that you might be 45, 50% higher than you were four years ago. So it’s not 4%.

References

↑1 This is the annual rate when compounded monthly.

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