Consumer Price Index For All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)

What Is the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)?

The Consumer Price Index For All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) measures changes in U.S. consumer prices based on a representative basket of goods and services. The term urban in the index refers to areas around any city or town with a population of at least 10,000. As a result, CPI-U covers 93% of the U.S. population. Data is compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes the index every month.

Key Takeaways

  • The Consumer Price Index For All Urban Consumers measures the monthly change in consumer prices for a representative basket of goods and services.
  • CPI-U is the headline Consumer Price Index, which covers 93% of the U.S. population.
  • CPI-U is distinct from the CPI-W index, which covers 29% of the U.S. population.
  • It is limited to households that draw income primarily from hourly wage and clerical jobs, which is used to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for federal payments including Social Security.
  • CPI-U measures inflation and is an indicator of the effectiveness of government fiscal and monetary policies.
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The Consumer Price Index

Understanding the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)

Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the most widely cited indicator of inflation or deflation. CPI-U is most often simply called CPI and is the index referenced by headlines in the news. The related CPI-W index covers the 29% of U.S. population in households relying predominantly on income from clerical and hourly wage jobs. CPI-W is used primarily to calculate cost-of-living adjustments for federal benefits, and to index income tax brackets for inflation.

CPI-U is based on a scientifically selected random sample of 94,000 prices collected monthly from retail and service establishments by the BLS. Rental housing prices and the imputed shelter costs for homeowners are calculated from a separate survey of 8,000 rental housing units.

The prices are adjusted for changes in product quality or features, and CPI indexes for each category of product or service are calculated in a way that allows for substitution effects—the tendency of consumers to seek alternatives as prices rise. For example, rising beef prices might cause shoppers to buy less beef and more chicken.

CPI-U weights the products and services prices based on consumer spending patterns derived from a separate survey. The index includes tables showing monthly price changes for a wide variety of spending categories, from infants' and toddlers' apparel to funeral expenses. The change for each category is provided with and without seasonal adjustments taking into account seasonal pricing patterns.

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The CPI-U increase in May 2022 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The CPI-U was up 8.6% for the 12 months through May, which represents the largest increase for a 12-month period since the term ending December 1981.

Special Considerations

This index has a few different uses, which depend entirely on the entity using it. For instance, financial markets use CPI-U trends to assess inflation while Federal Reserve policymakers use the report to analyze the effectiveness of monetary policy. Business executives, labor leaders, and consumers also use the CPI-U (and other CPI data) as a guide to making economic decisions. The CPI-U is also used to adjust other economic data for changes in prices, and to present them on an inflation-adjusted basis.

Published during the second week of the month for the prior month, the CPI-U is subject to considerable short-term fluctuations. But in context with the detailed data, prior reports and other economic releases the CPI-U is an indispensable gauge of the trend in consumer prices.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Consumer Price Index Overview."

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Handbook of Methods for Consumer Price Index: Data Sources."

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Economic News Release: Consumer Price Index Summary."

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