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Another jump in prices tightens the squeeze on US consumers

ap photo Patrons are assisted while dining along a sidewalk on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, N.C., on April 16. As consumers increasingly venture away from home, demand has begun to shift away from manufactured goods and toward services, from airline fares to restaurant meals, triggering inflation in those areas.

WASHINGTON — American consumers absorbed another surge in prices in May — a 0.6 percent increase over April and 5 percent over the past year, the biggest 12-month inflation spike since 2008.

The May rise in consumer prices that the Labor Department reported Thursday reflected a range of goods and services now in growing demand as people increasingly shop, travel, dine out and attend entertainment events in a rapidly reopening economy.

The increased consumer appetite is bumping up against a shortage of components, from lumber and steel to chemicals and semiconductors, that supply such key products as autos and computer equipment, all of which has forced up prices. And as consumers increasingly venture away from home, demand has spread from manufactured goods to services — airline fares, for example, along with restaurant meals and hotel prices — raising inflation in those areas, too.

In its report Thursday, the government said that core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food costs, rose 0.7 percent in May after an even bigger 0.9 percent increase in April, and has risen 3.8 percent over the past year. That is the sharpest 12-month jump in core inflation since 1992. And it is far above the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for annual price increases.

Among specific items in May, prices for used vehicles, which had surged by a record 10 percent in April, shot up an additional 7.3 percent and accounted for one-third of May’s overall price jump. The price of new cars, too, rose 1.6 percent — the largest one-month increase since 2009.

The jump in new and used vehicle prices reflects supply chain problems that have caused a shortage of semiconductors.

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