What’s in Your Consumer Price Index?

Brad DeLong calls for the retirement of Bob Herbert listing several problems with his latest op-ed. The last on Brad’s list relates to this:

In an interview after the hearing, Representative Hinchey discussed the disconnect between official government reports and the reality facing working families. He noted that the unemployment rate does not include workers who have become so discouraged that they’ve given up looking for a job. And the most popular measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, does not include the cost of energy or food, “the two most significant aspects of the increased cost of living for the American people.”

Our graph shows both the overall CPI and the CPI less food and energy (LFE) from January 1997 to September 2007. CPI-LFE has increased by about 2.2 percent per year over this period whereas the overall CPI has increased by 2.5 percent per year. Interestingly, food prices have risen by 2.6 percent per year over this period. The kicker is the rise in energy prices, which have risen by 5.6 percent per year over this period.

Then that’s the point – as Brad notes – is that the overall CPI does include the cost of food and energy. Congressman Maurice Hinchey is a Democrat representing District 22 of New York – which includes portion of eight counties from the Hudson River, through the Catskills, across the Southern Tier and up to the Finger Lakes. Its cities include Binghamton, Ithaca, Middletown, Kingston, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. Their Congressman appears to not under what is reported in the CPI. Apparently, Bob Herbert is also this clueless.