Cost of living grows by fastest pace in 40 years
By Mary Steurer
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — Price increases driven by the coronavirus pandemic last year brought a state inflation measure to its highest point in four decades.
The Wyoming Cost of Living Index is a twice-a-year publication done by the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division that studies changes in inflation. The latest report, published April 18, covers the fourth quarter of 2021, which covers October, November and December.
Inflation in Wyoming rose 9.3% from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the fourth quarter of 2021, the report found.
The last time Wyoming saw a spike that high was the third quarter of 1981, which posted a year-over-year inflation rate of 11.8%. That was during the economic recession of the early ‘80s.
The pandemic has taken prices on a roller coaster, but early last year is when inflation really began to surge, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit group that studies the U.S. economy.
The last Wyoming Cost of Living Index report, which came out in October, recorded a 7.7% inflation rate between spring 2020 and spring 2021. That same measure was just 1.1% a year prior.
The index measures inflation rates for six consumer categories:
- Transportation in Wyoming recorded the highest increase at 22.1%. It’s little wonder — oil prices have risen dramatically since tanking at the beginning of the pandemic.
- Food underwent an 8.3% increase. By comparison, food costs rose just 1.9% from the second quarter 2020 to the second quarter of 2021.
- Housing had the next highest inflation at 7.4%.
- Recreation and personal care underwent a 6.7% price increase.
- Medical costs recorded a 4.3% increase and apparel recorded an increase of 3.3%.
The higher food prices come at no surprise. In Wyoming — where most of what we eat is shipped in from elsewhere — higher transportation costs equal higher food costs.
“Our food bill has doubled,” said Jamie Purcell, founder and executive director at Wyoming Food for Thought.
For now, the social safety net is helping to keep people fed, Purcell said.
Public schools across the nation still offer kids free breakfast and lunch, no questions asked, on the U.S. That program is set to wear off at the end of June.
In March 2020, the federal government temporarily expanded food stamps and other social programs. While that measure’s no longer in effect, the Biden Administration in August approved permanent changes to food stamps that were expected to up average benefits by about a quarter, the New York Times reported last year.
Still, Purcell anticipates the price hike to catch up with families in six months or so. In the meantime, she encourages Wyoming residents to enroll in whatever assistance programs they can — food stamps, free and reduced lunch for kids or the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, for example — and to take advantage of local resources like food pantries.
Some regions of the state have been hit harder by inflation than others, the cost of living index shows.
Northeast Wyoming, which includes Campbell, Crook, Johnson, Sheridan and Weston counties, had the highest rate, at 10.4%.
Southeast Wyoming — Albany, Carbon, Goshen, Laramie, Niobrara and Platte counties — followed close behind with an inflation rate of 10.2%.
Central Wyoming, which includes Natrona, Converse and Fremont counties, experienced 7.4% inflation.
Nationally, the inflation rate from December 2020 to December 2021 was 7%, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The report also compares the costs of living in each county.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, Teton County had the highest cost of living, at 65% higher than the statewide average. As a popular tourist destination, Teton has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country. As of late 2021, an apartment in Teton County averaged $2,780 a month, according to the index. An average apartment in Natrona County ran $771.
The cost of living in Natrona County is on par with the rest of Wyoming, just 6% lower than the statewide average. Laramie County, by comparison, recorded a cost of living just 5% higher than the average.