One Out of Every 79 Dollars

The Commerce Department reported that American consumers spent 4.0 percent more this February on electricity than in February of 2021. Inflation is here.

Which you knew. Unless you’ve been living under a rock. Which I know you haven’t since you read my columns.

Consumers spent 15.4 percent more on natural gas per the same report. And 4.6 percent more on water supply and sewage maintenance.

Inflation is here and there and everywhere. Consumers spent 16.2 percent more on all goods. They spent 12.4 percent more on all services. In case you’re wondering, the Commerce Department counts electricity, natural gas, and water supply and sewage maintenance as services.

One out of every seventy-nine dollars spent by consumers this February, on all goods and services, was paid to utilities for electric service.

That’s better than in February of 2021. In that month, electric utility bills amounted to one out of every seventy-two dollars spent by consumers.

Though not quite as good as in February of 2020. That was, you’ll recall, right before the pandemic. In that last month of innocence, electric bills amounted to one out of every eighty-one dollars spent by consumers.

The best February ever in terms of electricity’s share of consumer expenditures wasn’t long ago, February of 2017. Electric bills were just one out of every eighty-three dollars spent. But only two years earlier, in February of 2015, electric bills were as high as one out of every sixty-two dollars spent.

I find it interesting to look back to the first February of this Commerce Department data. In February of 1959, sixty-three years ago, electric bills amounted to one out of every sixty-eight dollars spent by consumers.

Electricity took a larger slice of our money back in those days. Even though today the American home uses far more electricity and derives far more value from its usage than “the day the music died.” Yes, it was in February of 1959 when Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper perished in that plane crash referenced in Don McLean’s American Pie.

The worst February ever in terms of electricity’s share of consumer expenditures was February of 1985. Electric bills were one out of every forty-three dollars spent.

That was the month when Record of the Year went to Tina Turner for What’s Love Got to Do with It. The Queen of Rock n Roll edged out Cyndi Lauper, Girls Just Want to Have Fun; Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in The Dark; and Huey Lewis and The News, The Heart of Rock and Roll.

Good times! Except for the electric bills.  

What consumers spent on some categories of goods and services rose much more than what’s taken place in electricity and water and even gas. The most dramatic increases illustrate the effect of the waning (we hope) pandemic.

Consumers spent 438 percent more on motion picture theaters this February as compared to February of 2021. They spent 430 percent more on spectator sports. They spent 165 percent more on foreign travel. And they spent 148 percent more on air transportation, 99 percent more on hotels and motels, and 94 percent more on motor vehicle rental.