Led by large increases for food, housing and transportation, consumer prices in the metropolitan Washington area rose 1.9 percent from June through July, slightly above the average national price increase of 1.8 percent during the two months, the Labor Department reported yesterday.
Since July a year ago, local consumer prices have risen 7.7 percent as prices nationwide increased 7.4 percent.
During June and July, local food prices increased 2.8 percent, the largest increase for any of the major consumer expenditure categories. Grocery store food prices increased 3.2 percent during the two months. Nationally, food prices increased 2.2 percent during the two months.
Housing costs, which account for 46.7 percent of the average spending of Washington area consumers, increased 1.9 percent during the two-month period. Since July a year ago, local housing costs have risen 8.4 percent, while the costs nationwide have risen 8.8 percent.
Among housing costs, the cost of utilities increased 5.2 percent during June and July, partly reflecting an increase of 10 percent for gas and electricity.
The cost of traveling around the metropolitian area also increased significantly during June and July. Public transportation cost increased 2.5 percent, and private transportation increased 2.6 percent. Since July 1977, local transportation costs have risen 6.2 percent, compared to an increase nationwide of 4.5 percent.
The large increase in food prices was greatest for meats, poultry, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables - which all increased in price more than 4 percent in two months. Prices declined for a few products, including oranges, lettuce and tomatoes.
Among Washington shoppers interviewed yesterday, the increase in grocery store food prices came as no surprise. Many felt helpless while others were downright furious.
"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Louise Lemmon, cradling a bag of groceries in her arms as she left the Metro Supermarket at 1441 P St. NW. "During the last month, for the first time, my food bill amounts to more than half of my weekly paycheck.
"You spend $4 or $5 for a piece of meat, and when you get home and cut away the fat you find it isn't hardly enough to feed one person, let alone four," she said. "Then when the rent comes due you wonder where all the money went."
Linda Jarman, interviewed outside the Townhouse Supermarket at 1800 20th St. NW, suggested a solution to the rise in local food prices.
"My husband and I are planning to move to rural North Carolina," she said, "because life is so expensive around here. I think down south we'll, find it a bit cheaper to live."
Chau Phan, 71, who lives on 19th Street NW on a fixed income, left the store with a small bag of groceries.
"Last year, I was able to get a bag and a half of food for the same money," said Phan, who shops for food once a week with his wife. "My pension doesn't stretch at all, while food prices seem to always stretch. One or the other will have to give after a while."
Local consumers may find some relief in clothing prices, which decreased 2.1 percent during June and July. The price of footwear showed the sharpest drop, falling 5 percent, as female apparel prices fell 3.4 percent and male apparel prices fell 1.8 percent. Nationwide, clothing prices fell 1.1 percent during the two months.
In other expenditure categories, the price of medical care increased 2.3 percent during the two-month period. Entertainment prices increased two-tenths of a percent and the last category - other goods and services - showed a nine-tenths of a percent increase.