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Consumer Price Index (CPI-U and CPI-W)

This page provides an overview of the Consumer Price Index for local governments in Washington State, with links to national data and statistics from Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue.

January 2019 update: We have recently reorganized the CPI data on our website. CPI-U and CPI-W data for the U.S. City Average, Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, and Portland Salem is now posted in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet below.


Overview

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the change in prices paid over time for a fixed market basket of goods and services, as calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It is one of the most widely used measures of inflation by both government and private sector organizations.

  • The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) measures the percentage change in prices faced by urban consumers and covers approximately 93% of the nation's population.
  • The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is a subset of the CPI-U and is sometimes referred to as the "blue-collar measure." Its market basket reflects the expenditures of urban households that derive more than half their income from clerical and hourly wage jobs. It covers approximately 29% of the nation's population.

Many governmental entities use the CPI for various purposes, such as cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for employees who are part of collective bargaining agreements, pension adjustments, or automatic increases for certain fees or revenue sources such as impact fees or multi-year levy lid lifts. After 2020, future increases to the statewide minimum wage that employers must pay will be tied to the CPI-W (RCW 49.46.020).

BLS releases CPI-U and CPI-W data for the entire country (U.S. City Average) as well as selected metropolitan regions. The only region of the Pacific Northwest currently represented is Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, which comprises King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

The U.S. City Average is compiled on a monthly basis and is available during the second week of the following month. The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue index is compiled every other month and released in odd-numbered months (for the preceding even-numbered month).

None of these indexes measure price changes in rural areas. But recognizing that local governments in rural areas need some indicator to use, we recommend one of the U.S. City Average indexes.

Practice Tip: The Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends using one of the national indexes for all contract adjustments. (See How to Use the Consumer Price Index for Escalation.) Not only is the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue published less frequently, but it is based on a smaller sample and is, therefore, more volatile and subject to measurement error.

Whichever CPI index you choose to use – whether CPI-U or CPI-W, U.S. City Average or Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue – make sure to be document it clearly.

Always write your contracts so that you will be adjusting on the basis of actual CPI figures. Never use estimates for contract adjustments.


2018 Geographic Revisions

Effective January 2018, BLS introduced the first CPI geographic changes since 1998:

  • The Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton index (which included King, Pierce, Island, Kitsap, and Thurston counties) is now the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue index (King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties; no longer includes Island, Kitsap, and Thurston counties).
  • The Portland-Salem index (which included Clark County) was eliminated.

Current CPI-U and CPI-W Data

The file below contains approximately the last 10 years of CPI-U and CPI-W data relevant to local governments in Washington State. This data is updated monthly for the U.S. City Average and every two months for the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue index.

  • Recent CPI-U and CPI-W Data (Excel spreadsheet) – Current data for U.S. City Average and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue index, as well as historical data for the now-discontinued Portland-Salem index

Data source:


Recommended Resources

Below are some useful resources from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:


Last Modified: August 13, 2019