The Atlanta Fed's macroblog provides commentary on economic topics including monetary policy, macroeconomic developments, financial issues and Southeast regional trends.

Authors for macroblog are Dave Altig and other Atlanta Fed economists.

July 17, 2015

Getting to the Core of Goods and Services Prices

In yesterday's macroblog post, I highlighted an aspect of a recent Wall Street Journal article that concerns how households perceive inflation. Today, I'm going back to the same well to comment on another aspect of that story, which correctly notes that service-sector prices are rising at a faster clip than the price of goods.

Of course, this isn't just a recent event. Core services prices have outpaced core goods prices over the past 50 years, save a few short-lived deviations. What's unusual about the current recovery, as the chart below shows, is how low services inflation has been.

Core Goods and Services Prices

In the nearly six years since the end of the 2007–09 recession, core services prices have risen at an annualized pace of 2.1 percent, a full percentage point below their average during the last expansion. Conversely, the annualized growth rate in core goods prices during the recovery has been 0.5 percent, compared to a decline of 0.6 percent during the last expansion (see the chart below).

Core Goods and Services Prices

To see how broad-based the slowdown across core services prices has been relative to that of core goods prices, let's take a deeper dive into the components. The chart below compares the difference between a particular component's annualized growth rate during the current expansion and its growth rate during the previous expansion. A negative number here means that a component's price is growing more slowly now than it did prior to the recession.

It's evident that the slowdown in core services prices is fairly broad-based (17 of 22 components are exhibiting disinflation relative to their growth rate over the previous expansion). For core goods components, that number is just five of 15 components. So, if we accept the premise of the WSJ article—that trends in services prices more closely reflect "unused domestic capacity"—then it's possible we could be farther away than we think.

July 17, 2015 in Inflation | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 16, 2015

Different Strokes for Different Folks

A recent Wall Street Journal article offered an interesting conjecture. The author stated,"[b]ecause consumers pay service bills more often than they buy most goods other than food and gasoline, perceptions of inflation skew on the high side."

Research supports the idea that inflation perceptions are unusually influenced by particular prices. For example, some authors have noted that inflation expectations appear to be unusually influenced by movements in gasoline prices.

This research by Georganas, Healy, and Li shows that inflation perceptions are affected by how frequently people buy a particular good—so that nondurable goods prices like gasoline affect inflation perceptions more than durable goods.

And recent work by Johannsen at the Federal Reserve Board shows that demographic groups who have a more disperse set of inflation experiences also tend to hold more disperse inflation expectations. One thing I think we can say is that different demographic groups appear to have different inflation experiences, as this research by Hobjin, Mayer, Stennis, and Topa indicates.

For example, let's take a look at the difference between the inflation experiences of two households. The first is a single older female (over 55 years of age) who rents her home and has a relatively low income (less than $30,000 a year). The second is a young couple (younger than 35 years old) who own their home and have a high income (over $70,000 annually). Both households have high school educations. Recently, the difference between the inflation experiences of these two demographic groups has opened up to a sizable 2.0 percentage points (see the chart). Why?

Different Inflation Experiences

Well, the spending habits of these two groups contain a few striking differences. For example, the older female spends a lot more of her household income on food at home, rent, and medical care than the young couple does (see the table). Also, the young couple appears to spend a larger fraction of their income on transportation (a large portion of which is gasoline).

Comparison of myCPI Weights

Average of the previous five years (through December 2014)


A young couple, homeowner, high income, high school education

Older female, renter, low income, high school education

Food at home



Food away from home









Household operations



Household furnishings and equipment









Medical care












Note: "Other" includes personal care, alcohol, tobacco, reading, and miscellaneous goods and services
Source: Author's calculations based on the BLS's Consumer Expenditure Survey

What's the inflation experience for someone in your particular demographic group? Let's find out. We've developed a tool called myCPI. It allows users to track a measure of the cost of living that captures some of the variation that occurs between demographic groups. In less than a minute, you can answer a few questions about your demographic category, and we'll show you the cost-of-living trends for "your" group. And if you want, we'll send you updates of your demographic group's inflation with every consumer price index (CPI) report.

Why not get your myCPI report? And when tomorrow's CPI report is released, we'll send you a note telling your how your group's cost-of-living adjustment compares to the average urban consumer in the headline CPI.

July 16, 2015 in Inflation | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 15, 2015

Have Changing Job and Worker Characteristics Restrained Wage Growth?

In the wake of the Great Recession, nominal wage growth has been subdued. But it is unclear how much of this relatively low wage growth reflects protracted weakness in the labor market versus other factors, such as changes in the composition of the workforce and jobs over time. Wage growth tends to vary across personal and job characteristics, so it stands to reason that changes in the composition of the workforce, alongside demographic and work characteristics, could be an important explanation of overall movements in wage growth.

In this post, we explore the impact of the changing mixture of worker characteristics (by age and education) and types of jobs (by industry and occupation) on the Atlanta's Fed Wage Growth Tracker. We find that composition effects do not account for the low median wage growth experienced in recent years. Holding worker and job characteristics fixed at their 1997 shares raises the median wage growth in 2014 by only about 0.2 percentage point. Our results are consistent with the analysis in a previous macroblog post, which found that changing industry-employment shares could not explain much of the sluggish growth in the average hourly earnings data from the payroll survey.

Median wage growth, composition change by worker characteristics
In terms of demographics, we consider two features: a worker's age and education. As shown in this earlier macroblog post, younger workers tend to experience higher median wage growth than do older workers. Although older workers tend to be paid more based on experience, they are also more likely to be near the top of the wage distribution for their job, so the median older worker experiences less wage growth. The difference is quite large. In 2014, the median wage growth of workers over age 54 was around 1.2 percentage points lower than the overall median.

A person's education can also affect his or her wage growth. Workers with a high school diploma or less tend to have lower median wage growth. In 2014, the median wage growth of less-educated workers was about 0.1 percentage point lower than the overall median, reflecting that these workers are more likely to be earning minimum wage, which does not change very frequently.

In addition, the employment shares by age and education have changed over time. The proportion of workers in the Atlanta Fed's Wage Growth Tracker data who are over age 54 has more than doubled from 12 percent in 1997 to 25 percent in 2014. During the same period, the share of workers without a college degree has declined from 63 percent to 49 percent (see the charts).

Education and Age Distribution Over Time

Wage growth, composition change by job characteristics
In terms of job characteristics, we consider two features: the worker's industry (where they work) and their occupation (what they do). Before 2011, workers in service-producing industries experienced slightly higher (about 0.1 percentage point) median wage growth than all workers. But since then, the trends have flipped. In recent years, median wage growth of individuals working in service-producing industries has been slightly below the median wage growth of all workers.

Nonetheless, workers in professional occupations such as managerial, legal, scientific, and engineering jobs tend to experience relatively higher median wage growth. In 2014, the median wage growth of workers in these professional jobs was 0.2 percentage point higher than the median wage growth for all workers.

The share of workers in service-producing industries and in professional jobs has increased moderately over time. In 1997, 77 percent of workers in the data were employed in service-producing industries. In 2014, the share had increased to 82 percent. During the same period, the share of workers in professional occupations rose from 36 percent to 41 percent.

Composition effects on median wage growth
Individually, an aging workforce is putting downward pressure on wage growth, whereas rising education levels are adding upward pressure. The rising share of workers in professional occupations is also pushing wages up somewhat, although the impact of the rising share of workers in service-producing industries is ambiguous. But how large are these effects when combined?

To get an idea, we conducted two counterfactual experiments. First, we held fixed the age and education distributions at their 1997 levels (the first year in our Wage Growth Tracker data). Second, we held fixed the age, education, industry, and occupation characteristics at their 1997 levels. We used three age groups (16–24, 25–54, and 55-plus years of age), two education groups (college degree and no college degree), two industry groups (service- or goods-producing industries), and two occupation groups (professional and other occupations).

The blue line in the next chart is the median wage growth over time with no adjustments for changes in composition. For example, for 2014, the chart shows median wage growth of workers in the data set with earnings in January 2014 and January 2013, February 2014 and February 2013, etc. This depiction is the Atlanta Fed Wage Growth Tracker, but at an annual frequency. The other two lines show the results of the experiment: demographically adjusted (green) and both demographically and job adjusted (orange).

These experiments suggest that—for our data set, at least—the impact on the median of the wage growth distribution from shifts in the composition of the workforce and jobs over time has increased in recent years, but the impact is not especially large. For example, the unadjusted median wage growth for 2014 is 2.5 percent. Holding fixed all four characteristics at their 1997 levels would have raised this by only 0.2 percentage point. Shifting worker and job characteristics are not a primary explanation of low median wage growth since 2009.


July 15, 2015 in Employment, Labor Markets, Wage Growth | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 01, 2015

Far Away Yet Close to Home: Discussing the Global Economy's Effects

In case you needed any motivation to take interest in the outcome of ongoing negotiations between the Greek government and its international creditors, this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal ought to do it:

Global growth is really important. We are all connected through the financial markets, through foreign-exchange markets," Fed governor Jerome Powell said last week in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "If global growth weakens, or remains weak, and we get into a trend of that, then yes, that will be a big headwind for the United States economy."

Last week, I participated in the latest edition of our webcast, ECONversations, devoted to the theme "what to make of the first quarter?" (The webcast can be found here). The conversation revolved around the Atlanta Fed staff's view of why 2015 began with such a whimper and ideas on prospects for improvement through the balance of the year.

Not surprisingly, the international context loomed large. Between June 2014 and March 2015, the U.S. dollar appreciated by about 14 percent against a broad basket of currencies, and by about 20 percent against major currencies. The dollar has roughly remained in those neighborhoods since. As to the gross domestic product (GDP) side of the story, arithmetically net exports subtracted almost 2 percentage points off first quarter growth.

A key assumption of our current outlook is that the international environment (including the exchange rate) will stabilize, and smoother sailing without the "big headwind" referenced by Governor Powell is ahead.

That assumption generated some discussion (in the Q&A part of the webcast, and via online questions). With some paraphrasing, here are a few of the comments and questions we received, and my best attempt to respond:

Q: You associate the prior appreciation in the dollar with a several percentage point subtraction from growth in the first quarter. This seems quite large in context of available research on the elasticity of the trade balance to movements in the foreign exchange value of the dollar.

A: In the webcast, I did loosely refer to the trade effect on first quarter GDP as a "dollar effect." But the questioner—Barclay's head of U.S. economics research, Michael Gapen— is completely correct in asserting that standard estimates wouldn't support exchange-rate appreciation as an all-encompassing explanation for the big first quarter trade deficit. Our own estimates imply that four quarters after an exchange rate shock that raises the real broad-dollar index by 10 percentage points, real GDP is about one-half a percentage point lower than it would have been without the shock. This impact is roughly the same as most standard estimates (including Barclay's).

Some analyses might imply a larger GDP impact for the pure dollar effect, but any reasonable estimate would leave a fair amount of the first quarter net export decline unexplained. In any event, exchange-rate movements are both cause and effect, which brings us to:

Q: I have a question regarding the impact of the U.S. dollar (USD) in the economy. We often learn that changes in the real exchange rate affect the economy with a lag. Take Japan, for instance. It had a substantial depreciation in Japanese yen (JPY) real exchange rate but with very minimal impact on Japan's trade performance so far. What makes you so confident that the strong USD has had a strong impact in the U.S. economy in such a short period of time? Wouldn't the negative contribution from net exports more likely be linked to delays in West Coast ports and the sharp slowdown in Asian economies (China, in particular)?

A: Yes, in our analysis (and most we know of), the effects of exchange rates occur with a lag. And, as noted above, only a fraction of the decline in net exports by the end of 2014 and into the beginning of this year can be plausibly attributed to dollar appreciation. But we do think those effects are there, and they are continuing (to a lesser extent) in the current quarter.

Of course, changes in the value of the currency are an effect of other developments as well as a cause of changes in exports, GDP, and the like. All else is not typically equal, which often makes simple correlations (or, in the Japanese case, the lack thereof) difficult to interpret.

One of those "not equal" things could well have been the port delays. We don't have a firm estimate of how the backlogs might have affected the first quarter GDP statistic. If the impact was indeed material, we should see some reversal in the second and third quarters now that things are apparently getting back to normal. We'll count that as an upside risk.

And looking forward?

Q: Shouldn't the economic crisis in Greece dampen the demand for American exports and decrease growth well into the fourth quarter?

A: The good news is that current forecasts suggest 2015 euro-area growth will exceed its 2014 pace (according to the World Bank). In fact, the 2015 forecast strengthened over the course of this year despite the ongoing uncertainty associated with the Greek crisis. By most accounts, Canadian economic activity this year is expected to follow a trajectory similar to the United States (in like a lamb, out like something less lambish).

Mexico, as well, is expected to show more growth this year than last, despite some softening of the outlook since the beginning of the year. Put those three together (expanding the euro area to the entire European Union), and you have the anticipation of some improvement in countries accounting for somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 percent of our export markets.

The bad news is the ongoing uncertainty associated with the Greek crisis. Further, the outlook in emerging economies is growing more downbeat. These realities—a continuing impact of prior dollar appreciation and the fact that better foreign growth still does not equate to great growth—has us reluctant to think that net exports will be a big positive number in this year's GDP calculations. That reluctance notwithstanding, for now we are writing in a smaller trade deficit over the course of the year than what we saw in the first quarter.

If you want to go into the July 4 holiday on a somewhat optimistic note, I'll note that our GDPNow estimates for the second quarter have strengthened substantially with the arrival of more recent data—notably including signals of a much lower trade deficit effect than in the first quarter and today's positive news on manufacturing and nonresidential construction. Those data may not be enough to generate full confidence in our forecast for a much better second half of 2015, but they are moving in the right direction.

July 1, 2015 in Economic Growth and Development, GDP | Permalink | Comments (0)

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