U.S. Inflation Rate by Year From 1929 to 2023 

U.S. Inflation Rate by Year From 1929 to 2023

How Bad Is Inflation? Past, Present, Future.

boat yard during world war II
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The U.S. inflation rate by year is the percentage of change in product and service prices from one year to the next, or “year-over-year.”

The inflation rate responds to each phase of the business cycle. That’s the natural rise and fall of economic growth that occurs over time. The cycle corresponds to the highs and lows of a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), which measures all goods and services produced in the country.

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. inflation rate by year reflects how much prices change year-over-year.
  • Year-over-year inflation rates give a clearer picture of price changes than annual average inflation.
  • The Federal Reserve uses monetary policy to achieve its target rate of 2% inflation.
  • In 2022 in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, inflation reached 7%, its highest rate in decades.

Business Cycle: Expansion and Peak

The business cycle runs in four phases. The first phase is the expansion phase. This is when economic growth is positive, with a healthy 2% rate of inflation. The Federal Reserve (“the Fed”) considers this an acceptable rate of inflation.1 On August 27, 2020, the Fed announced that it would allow a target inflation rate of more than 2% if that will help ensure maximum employment. It still seeks a 2% inflation over time but is willing to allow higher rates if inflation has been low for a while.2

As the economy expands past a 3% rate of growth, it can create an asset bubble. That’s when the market value of an asset increases more rapidly than its underlying real value.

The second phase of the cycle is known as thepeak.” This is the time when expansion ends and contraction begins.

Economic Cycles
Business Cycle Phases.

Business Cycle: Contraction and Trough

As the market resists any higher prices, a decline begins. This is the beginning of the third, or contraction, phase. The growth rate turns negative. If it lasts long enough, it can create a recession.

During a recession, deflation can occur. That’s a decrease in the prices of goods and services. It can often be more dangerous than inflation.

As the economy continues its downward trend, it reaches the lowest level possible for the circumstances. This trough is the fourth phase, where contraction ends and economic expansion begins. The rate of inflation begins to increase again, and the cycle repeats.

During recessions and troughs, the Fed uses monetary policy to control inflation, deflation, and disinflation.

The Effect of Monetary Policy

The Fed focuses on the core inflation rate, which excludes gas and food prices. These volatile prices change from month to month, hiding underlying inflation trends.

The Fed sets a target inflation rate of 2%. If the core rate rises much above that, the Fed will execute a contractionary monetary policy. It will increase the federal funds rate, which is the interest rate when banks lend to each other overnight. Historically, this action reduces demand and pushes inflation lower.

The Fed can also lower the federal discount rate, which makes it cheaper to borrow money from the Fed itself. This is an attempt to increase demand and raise prices.

Other tools that the Fed uses are:

  • Reserve requirements (the amount banks hold in reserves)
  • Open market operations (buying or selling U.S. securities from member banks)
  • Reserve interest (paying interest on excess reserves)3

U.S. Inflation Rate History and Forecast

The best way to compare inflation rates is to use the end-of-year consumer price index (CPI), which creates an image of a specific point in time.

The table below compares the inflation rate (December end-of-year) with the fed funds rate, the phase of the business cycle, and the significant events influencing inflation. A more detailed forecast is in the U.S. Economic Outlook.

Year Inflation Rate YOY4 Fed Funds Rate*5 Business Cycle (GDP Growth)67 Events Affecting Inflation8
1929 0.6% NA August peak Market crash
1930 -6.4% NA Contraction (-8.5%) Smoot-Hawley
1931 -9.3% NA Contraction (-6.4%) Dust Bowl
1932 -10.3% NA Contraction (-12.9%) Hoover tax hikes
1933 0.8% NA Contraction ended in March (-1.2%) FDR’s New Deal
1934 1.5% NA Expansion (10.8%) U.S. debt rose
1935 3.0% NA Expansion (8.9%) Social Security
1936 1.4% NA Expansion (12.9%) FDR tax hikes
1937 2.9% NA Expansion peaked in May (5.1%) Depression resumes
1938 -2.8% NA Contraction ended in June (-3.3%) Depression ended
1939 0.0% NA Expansion (8.0% Dust Bowl ended
1940 0.7% NA Expansion (8.8%) Defense increased
1941 9.9% NA Expansion (17.7%) Pearl Harbor
1942 9.0% NA Expansion (18.9%) Defense spending
1943 3.0% NA Expansion (17.0%) Defense spending
1944 2.3% NA Expansion (8.0%) Bretton Woods
1945 2.2% NA Feb. peak, Oct. trough (-1.0%) Truman ended WWII
1946 18.1% NA Expansion (-11.6%) Budget cuts
1947 8.8% NA Expansion (-1.1%) Cold War spending
1948 3.0% NA Nov. peak (4.1%)
1949 -2.1% NA Oct trough (-0.6%) Fair Deal, NATO
1950 5.9% NA Expansion (8.7%) Korean War
1951 6.0% NA Expansion (8.0%)
1952 0.8% NA Expansion (4.1%)
1953 0.7% NA July peak (4.7%) Eisenhower ended Korean War
1954 -0.7% 1.25% May trough (-0.6%) Dow returned to 1929 high
1955 0.4% 2.50% Expansion (7.1%)
1956 3.0% 3.00% Expansion (2.1%)
1957 2.9% 3.00% Aug. peak (2.1%) Recession
1958 1.8% 2.50% April trough (-0.7%) Recession ended
1959 1.7% 4.00% Expansion (6.9%) Fed raised rates
1960 1.4% 2.00% April peak (2.6%) Recession
1961 0.7% 2.25% Feb. trough (2.6%) JFK’s deficit spending ended recession
1962 1.3% 3.00% Expansion (6.1%)
1963 1.6% 3.5% Expansion (4.4%)
1964 1.0% 3.75% Expansion (5.8%) LBJ Medicare, Medicaid
1965 1.9% 4.25% Expansion (6.5%)
1966 3.5% 5.50% Expansion (6.6%) Vietnam War
1967 3.0% 4.50% Expansion (2.7%)
1968 4.7% 6.00% Expansion (4.9%) Moon landing
1969 6.2% 9.00% Dec. peak (3.1%) Nixon took office
1970 5.6% 5.00% Nov. trough (0.2%) Recession
1971 3.3% 5.00% Expansion (3.3%) Wage-price controls
1972 3.4% 5.75% Expansion (5.3%) Stagflation
1973 8.7% 9.00% Nov. peak (5.6%) End of gold standard
1974 12.3% 8.00% Contraction (-0.5%) Watergate
1975 6.9% 4.75% March trough (-0.2%) Stop-gap monetary policy confused businesses and kept prices high
1976 4.9% 4.75% Expansion (5.4%)
1977 6.7% 6.50% Expansion (4.6%)
1978 9.0% 10.00% Expansion (5.5%)
1979 13.3% 12.00% Expansion (3.2%)
1980 12.5% 18.00% Jan. peak (-0.3%) Recession
1981 8.9% 12.00% July trough (2.5%) Reagan tax cut
1982 3.8% 8.50% November (-1.8%) Recession ended
1983 3.8% 9.25% Expansion (4.6%) Military spending
1984 3.9% 8.25% Expansion (7.2%)
1985 3.8% 7.75% Expansion (4.2%)
1986 1.1% 6.00% Expansion (3.5%) Tax cut
1987 4.4% 6.75% Expansion (3.5%) Black Monday crash
1988 4.4% 9.75% Expansion (4.2%) Fed raised rates
1989 4.6% 8.25% Expansion (3.7%) S&L Crisis
1990 6.1% 7.00% July peak (1.9%) Recession
1991 3.1% 4.00% Mar trough (-0.1%) Fed lowered rates
1992 2.9% 3.00% Expansion (3.5%) NAFTA drafted
1993 2.7% 3.00% Expansion (2.8%) Balanced Budget Act
1994 2.7% 5.50% Expansion (4.0%)
1995 2.5% 5.50% Expansion (2.7%)
1996 3.3% 5.25% Expansion (3.8%) Welfare reform
1997 1.7% 5.50% Expansion (4.4%) Fed raised rates
1998 1.6% 4.75% Expansion (4.5%) LTCM crisis
1999 2.7% 5.50% Expansion (4.8%) Glass-Steagall repealed
2000 3.4% 6.50% Expansion (4.1%) Tech bubble burst
2001 1.6% 1.75% March peak, Nov. trough (1.0%) Bush tax cut, 9/11 attacks
2002 2.4% 1.25% Expansion (1.7%) War on Terror
2003 1.9% 1.00% Expansion (2.9%) JGTRRA
2004 3.3% 2.25% Expansion (3.8%)
2005 3.4% 4.25% Expansion (3.5%) Katrina, Bankruptcy Act
2006 2.5% 5.25% Expansion (2.9%)
2007 4.1% 4.25% Dec peak (1.9%) Bank crisis
2008 0.1% 0.25% Contraction (-0.1%) Financial crisis
2009 2.7% 0.25% June trough (-2.5%) ARRA
2010 1.5% 0.25% Expansion (2.6%) ACA, Dodd-Frank Act
2011 3.0% 0.25% Expansion (1.6%) Debt ceiling crisis
2012 1.7% 0.25% Expansion (2.2%)
2013 1.5% 0.25% Expansion (1.8%) Government shutdown. Sequestration
2014 0.8% 0.25% Expansion (2.5%) QE ends
2015 0.7% 0.50% Expansion (3.1%) Deflation in oil and gas prices
2016 2.1% 0.75% Expansion (1.7%)
2017 2.1% 1.50% Expansion (2.3%)
2018 1.9% 2.50% Expansion (3.0%)
2019 2.3% 1.75% Expansion (2.2%)
2020 1.4% 0.25% Contraction (-3.4%) Impact of COVID
2021 7.0% 0.25% Expansion (5.9%) Forecast
2022 2.3% (est.) 0.30% (est.) Expansion (3.8%) FFR midpoint projection
2023 2.2% (est.) 1.0%

Why the Inflation Rate Matters

The inflation rate demonstrates the health of a country’s economy. It is a measurement tool used by a country’s central bank, economists, and government officials to gauge whether action is needed to keep an economy healthy. That’s when businesses are producing, consumers are spending, and supply and demand are as close to equilibrium as possible.

A healthy rate of inflation is good for both consumers and businesses. During deflation, consumers hold on to their cash because the goods will be cheaper tomorrow. Businesses lose money, cutting costs by reducing pay or employment. That happened during the subprime housing crisis.

In galloping inflation, consumers spend now before prices rise tomorrow. That artificially increases demand. Businesses raise prices because they can, as inflation spirals out of control.

When inflation is steady, at around 2%, the economy is more or less as stable as it can get. Consumers are buying what businesses are selling.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How is inflation measured?

There are several ways to measure inflation, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the consumer price index. The CPI aggregates price data from 23,000 businesses and 80,000 consumer goods to determine how much prices have changed in a given period of time. If the CPI rises by 3% year over year, for example, then the inflation rate is 3%. The Fed, on the other hand, relies on the price index for personal consumption expenditures (PCE). This index gives more weight to items such as healthcare costs.

What is the highest inflation rate in U.S. history?

Since the introduction of the CPI in 1913, the highest rate of annual inflation in the U.S. was 17.8% in 1917. The 1970s saw the longest period of sustained high inflation rates.9

How do you hedge against inflation?

Because inflation causes money to lose value over time, hedging against it is an important part of any sound investing strategy. Investors use a diversified portfolio with a variety of asset types to offset inflation and ensure that the overall growth of their portfolio outpaces it.

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Too Much Money Portends High Inflation

The Fed should pay attention to Milton Friedman’s wisdom.

June’s inflation index jumped 5.4% from a year ago, the highest reading since August 2008. The experts were surprised. Clearly, Federal Reserve watchers never bothered to consult Milton Friedman. Lost is a core Friedman dictum: “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”

In his Feb. 23 testimony to Congress, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said that the growth in the money supply, specifically M2, “doesn’t really have important implications.” The experts, the press and the bond vigilantes were as quick to unlearn monetarism, if they ever had learned it, as Mr. Powell. Reporting about U.S. inflation rarely contains the words “money supply.” We are repeatedly told that the most recent upticks in inflation are anomalous and “transitory.”

Wrong. The inflation upticks aren’t temporary and were predictable, driven by an extraordinary explosion in the money supply. Since March 2020, the M2 has been growing at an average annualized rate of 23.9%—the fastest since World War II. There is so much money out there that banks don’t know what to do with it. Via reverse repurchase agreements, banks and money-market funds are lending money to the Fed to the tune of $860 billion. That’s unprecedented.

According to monetarism, asset-price inflation should have occurred with a lag of one to nine months. Then, with a lag of six to 18 months, economic activity should have started to pick up. Lastly, after a lag of 12 to 24 months, generalized inflation should have set in. That’s the standard monetarist sequence, and it’s been followed to a T.

To get a handle on what the recent money supply explosion implies for inflation, consider a monetarist model for determining national income. That famous model was displayed on Milton Friedman’s California license plates. It’s compact: MV=Py, where M is the money supply, V is the velocity of money (the speed at which it circulates), P is the price level, and y is real gross domestic product.

Plug numbers into the model and solve for M, and money supply (M2) should be growing at around 6% a year for the Fed to hit its inflation target of 2%. With M2 growing at nearly four times the “ideal” rate since March 2020, inflation is baked into the cake, and it’s likely to persist. By the end of the year, the year-over-year inflation rate will be at least 6% and possibly as high as 9%.

Some who like to throw cold water on monetarism argue that the velocity of money has collapsed and will mitigate the inflationary impact of the rapid growth of the money supply. While velocity did collapse with the onset of Covid, it’s on track to pick up until the end of 2024. Consequently, velocity will grease the monetary wheels. That’s why inflation might hit the high end of our forecast range.

Mr. Powell and his colleagues should start paying attention to the money supply. Money matters. Indeed, it dominates.

Mr. Greenwood is chief economist at Invesco in London. Mr. Hanke is a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University.

In 1980 I read the book FREE TO CHOOSE by Milton Friedman and it really enlightened me a tremendous amount.  I suggest checking out these episodes and transcripts of Milton Friedman’s film series FREE TO CHOOSE: “The Failure of Socialism” and “What is wrong with our schools?”  and “Created Equal”  and  From Cradle to Grave, and – Power of the Market.“If we could just stop the printing presses, we would stop inflation,” Milton Friedman says in “How to Cure Inflation” from the Free To Choose series. Now as then, there is only one cause of inflation, and that is when governments print too much money. Milton explains why it is that politicians like inflation, and why wage and price controls are not solutions to the problem.

In this episode Friedman notes, “Inflation is just like alcoholism. In both cases when you start drinking or when you start printing too much money, the good effects come first. The bad effects only come later.

That’s why in both cases there is a strong temptation to overdo it. To drink too much and to print too much money. When it comes to the cure, it’s the other way around. When you stop drinking or when you stop printing money, the bad effects come first and the good effects only come later.”
Pt 3
Germany, 1945, a devastated country. A nation defeated in war. The new governing body was the Allied Control Commission, representing the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. They imposed strict controls on practically every aspect of life including wages and prices. Along with the effects of war, the results were tragic. The basic economic order of the country began to collapse. Money lost its value. People reverted to primitive barter where they used cameras, fountain pens, cigarettes, whiskey as money. That was less than 40 years ago.
This is Germany as we know it today. Transformed into a place a lot of people would like to live in. How did they achieve their miraculous recovery? What did they know that we don’t know?
Early one Sunday morning, it was June 20, 1948, the German Minister of Economics, Ludwig Earhardt, a professional economist, simultaneously introduced a new currency, today’s Deutsche Mark, and in one fell swoop, abolished almost all controls on prices and wages. Why did he do it on a Sunday morning? It wasn’t as you might suppose because the Stock Markets were closed on that day, it was, as he loved to confess, because the offices of the American, the British, and the French occupation authorities were closed that day. He was sure that if he had done it when they open they would have countermanded the order. It worked like a charm. Within days, the shops were full of goods. Within months, the German economy was humming along at full steam. Economists weren’t surprised at the results, after all, that’s what a price system is for. But to the rest of the world it seemed an economic miracle that a defeated and devastated country could in little more than a decade become the strongest economy on the continent of Europe.
In a sense this city, West Berlin, is something of a unique economic test tube. Set as it is deep in Communist East Germany. Two fundamentally different economic systems collide here in Europe. Ours and theirs, separated by political philosophies, definitions of freedom and a steel and concrete wall.
To digress from inflation, economic freedom does not stand alone. It is part of a wider order. I wanted to show you how much difference it makes by letting you see how the people live on the other side of that Berlin Wall. But the East German authorities wouldn’t let us. The people over there speak the same language as the people over here. They have the same culture. They have the same for bearers. They are the same people. Yet you don’t need me to tell you how differently they live. There is one simple explanation. The political system over there cannot tolerate economic freedom. The political system over here could not exist without it.
But political freedom cannot be preserved unless inflation is kept in bounds. That’s the responsibility of government which has a monopoly over places like this. The reason we have inflation in the United States or for that matter anywhere in the world is because these pieces of paper and the accompanying book entry or their counterparts in other nations are growing more rapidly than the quantity of goods and services produced. The truth is inflation is made in one place and in one place only. Here in Washington. This is the only place were there are presses like this that turn out these pieces of paper we call money. This is the place where the power resides to determine how rapidly the amount of money shall increase.
What happened to all that noise? That’s what would happen to inflation if we stop letting the amount of money grow so rapidly. This is not a new idea. It’s not a new cure. It’s not a new problem. It’s happened over and over again in history. Sometimes inflation has been cured this way on purpose. Sometimes it’s happened by accident. During the Civil War the North, late in the Civil War, overran the place in the South where the printing presses were sitting up, where the pieces of paper were being turned out. Prior to that point, the South had a very rapid inflation. If my memory serves me right, something like 4% a month. It took the Confederacy something over two weeks to find a new place where they could set up their printing presses and start them going again. During that two week period, inflation came to a halt. After the two week period, when the presses started running again, inflation started up again. It’s that clear, that straightforward. More recently, there’s another dramatic example of the only effective way to deal with rampant inflation.
In 1973, Japanese housewives going to market were faced with an unpleasant fact. The cash in their purses seemed to be losing its value. Prices were starting to sore as the awful story of inflation began to unfold once again. The Japanese government knew what to do. What’s more, they were prepared to do it. When it was all over, economists were able to record precisely what had happened. In 1971 the quantity of money started to grow more rapidly. As always happens, inflation wasn’t affected for a time. But by late 1972 it started to respond. In early 73 the government reacted. It started to cut monetary growth. But inflation continued to soar for a time. The delayed reaction made 1973 a very tough year of recession. Inflation tumbled only when the government demonstrated its determination to keep monetary growth in check. It took five years to squeeze inflation out of the system. Japan attained relative stability. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid the difficult road the Japanese had to follow before they could have both low inflation and a healthy economy. First they had to live through a recession until slow monetary growth had its delayed effect on inflation.
Inflation is just like alcoholism. In both cases when you start drinking or when you start printing too much money, the good effects come first. The bad effects only come later.
That’s why in both cases there is a strong temptation to overdo it. To drink too much and to print too much money. When it comes to the cure, it’s the other way around. When you stop drinking or when you stop printing money, the bad effects come first and the good effects only come later. That’s why it’s so hard to persist with the cure. In the United States, four times in the 20 years after 1957, we undertook the cure. But each time we lacked the will to continue. As a result, we had all the bad effects and none of the good effects. Japan on the other hand, by sticking to a policy of slowing down the printing presses for five years, was by 1978 able to reap all the benefits, low inflation and a recovering economy. But there is nothing special about Japan. Every country that has had the courage to persist in a policy of slow monetary growth has been able to cure inflation and at the same time achieve a healthy economy.

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