Washington area consumer prices soared 2.4 percent from November to January, nearly a full percentage point higher than the average increase for the nation's cities. The biggest cost increases were for food and housing.
The jump in overall consumer prices here was the greatest rate of local inflation since the summer of 1974 -- when prices rose 3.5 percent in the three months after government price controls were lifted. The increase also surpassed the average price rise for the nation during the past two months.
For the 12 months ending in January, area consumer prices were up 10 percent compared with 9.3 percent for all cities, according to a Labor Department report yesterday. And the two-month rise of 2.4 percent here was substantially higher than the 1.5 percent rate for all cities.
If unchecked for a full year, the rate of price inflation during the November-January period would add up to an annual rate of 15 percent. During 1974, the record year for local and national inflation, area prices rose 12 percent compared with a U.S. average of 12.2 percent, according to Jesse Thomas, of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Despite the recent surge in prices here, the government statistics yesterday showed that inflation was higher in several other metropolitan areas over the past 12 months.
Compared with the 10 percent annual rate here for the 12 months ending in January, prices rose 13.7 percent in the San Diego area; 12.8 percent in St. Louis; 12.7 percent in Portland, Ore.; 12.4 percent in Denver-Boulder; 11.9 percent in Cincinnati; 10.9 percent in Detroit and 10.5 percent in Anchorage.
Lower rates of consumer prices increases were reported for Baltimore, at 5.2 percent; Boston, 7.5 percent; greater New York, 6.9 percent; and Philadelphia, 7.8 percent, among other urban areas.
The Washington consumer price index in January stood a 208.7 percent of its 1967 average, which means that goods and services costing $100 some 12 years ago now cost $208.70.
Overall area consumer prices are reported every two months while food prices are monitored monthly. According to yesterday's report, the major factors affecting prices in the November-January months were:
A 3.7 percent rise in food and beverage prices, with grocery store prices up 4.6 percent. Prices of fresh fruits and vegetables soared 8.4 percent -- reflecting unusually rapid inflation for oranges, lettuce and bananas. Consumers also paid more for meats, carbonated drinks, most dairy products, bread and eggs.
Substantial increases in housing costs, with home prices and mortgage rates rising in tandem to record levels. Overall home ownership costs rose 6 percent for the two-month period -- a rate of inflation that is expected to moderate somewhat later this year as mortgage rates level off Home prices are expected to continue to rise however.
Most of the recent grocery price increases here took place between December and January, with a one-month jump of 2.6 percent. Fruits and vegetables increased 7.3 percent; meats, poultry and fish jumped 2.4 percent and dairy products were up 1.6 percent.
Restaurant prices also continued to rise with a two-month increase of 2.7 percent and a 12-month increase of 10.4 percent compared with 7.7 percent for all cities. Overall spending for food accounts for about 17 1/2 percent of the average family's consumer dollar here, but the food percentage is higher for less affluent residents.
Housing costs account for most of the average Washington family's spending -- about 47 percent of every dollar.
On an annual basis, housing costs here were up 11.6 percent in the past year comared with 10 percent nationally. Household furnishings and operation costs rose 9.4 percent in the recent 12 months compared with 7.9 pecent in all cities.
There were several comparative bright spots in yesterday's report: On an annual basis, medical care costs rose 6.9 percent compared with 9.2 percent in all cities and entertainment costs rose 2.3 percent compared with 6.1 percent in other metropolitan areas.
In addition, overall fuel and utility cost increases were lower here than the national city averages. Gas and electricity prices rose 6.4 percent here in the past year compared with 9 percent in all cities. Fuel and utility costs were up 4.1 percent compared with 6.2 percent across the country.
For the recent two months, area transportation costs rose 0.6 percent as highr prices for new cars and gasoline more than offset lower costs for used cars and tires.
The Labor Department also said that prices were higher for tobacco products and personal care services but men's and women's apparel prices, as well as costs of luggage and jewelry, declined.