Higher prices for food, energy and housing that have hit workers hard could lead to an explosion of industrial wages and prices, the Council on Wage and Price Stability warned in a report yesterday.
As workers try to stay even-a futile task recently-the demand for higher pay, in an economy with little or no growth in productivity, will only generate more inflation, COWPS declared.
This attempt to recoup lost ground "will place extreme pressure on the pay and price standards in future months," the report said.
"Future increases in real incomes will be determined by the extent of our success in dealing with the basic problems of slow productivity growth and the energy shortage," it continued.
The course of inflation will depend "critically" upon whether those situations improve, and "in addition, upon our success in preventing an acceleration of industrial pay and price increases that could result from efforts to catch up with past price increases in the problem sectors," COWPS said.
"For this reason, the nation is presently at a critical crossroads in its effort to reduce inflation without incurring the costs of recession and rising unemployment that have followed past episodes of accelerating inflation," it cautioned.
COWPS indicated it expects much smaller increases in food prices for the remainder of this year, reflecting the slower rise in farm prices.
However, the council noted that retail food prices hikes havenot moderated much so far because of a "dramatic increase in the farm-retail (price) spread, which it said "are not consistent with widespread compliance with the gross-margin standard of the anti-inflation program."
As a result, COWPS said it is intensifying its investigations of prices in this area.
If there is little indication that energy and housing price rises will slow down soon, there is some encouraging news in the prices of finished consumer goods other than food and energy as measured in the Producer Price Index.
COWPS said that such prices have been going up at a 7.3 percent rate in the past three months compared with a 9.4 percent rate over the last year.
Similarly, the prices of services in the Consumer Price Index are not going up as fast as they were. During 1976-78, the prices of services was rising at between a 7 percent and 8 percent rate. More recently, they have been increasing at about a 6.5 percent rate.
But the signs of improvement are small, and COWPS remains deeply worried about the possibility of an industrial sector wage and price emplosion like the one that followed the big increases in food and fuel prices in 1973 and 1974.