Tampa Bay inflation jumps 8%, a leader in the nation

The government’s year-over-year analysis included a dozen metro areas. Inflation nationwide rose 6.8 percent for the period.
Consumers in the four-county Tampa Bay area, like these visitors to Tampa's International Plaza and Bay Street, are seeing some of the highest inflation increases in the country.
Consumers in the four-county Tampa Bay area, like these visitors to Tampa's International Plaza and Bay Street, are seeing some of the highest inflation increases in the country. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 11, 2021|Updated Dec. 11, 2021

Prices are soaring nationwide — and Tampa Bay is leading the pack.

The region saw prices rise 8 percent in November compared to last year, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest out of 12 other metro areas the federal government reported on this month.

The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area saw the second-largest gains at 7.9 percent, according to the Labor Department. New York City had the smallest at 5 percent.

The federal government measures 23 metro areas for inflation, dividing them into two lists with each measured every other month. Tampa Bay is in the list measured in November and wasn’t included in the October list, when Atlanta had the highest year-to-year rise at 7.9 percent.

Related: As hyperinflation talk mounts, Florida reckons with rising prices

Inflation across the country rose 6.8 percent, the highest annual rate in 39 years. Many factors are fueling inflation during the rebound from the pandemic recession: a flood of government stimulus, low rates by the Fed, supply shortages across the globe and pay raises from labor shortages.

“Ironically, it’s really a reflection of the economy getting back to where it was pre-pandemic,” said Michael Snipes, an economics instructor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

People in the country put much of their lives on pause at the start of the pandemic. The Tampa Bay area hasn’t been on pause as long, Snipes said, but the open policies in Florida are a beacon for people ready to return to normal again. The rising demand is driving prices up.

“As we’re opening a lot of other states, that’s gonna attract a lot of people to come down here because you can still do things here that you can’t do in other places,” Snipes said.

While the entire nation is feeling high inflation, Tampa Bay’s higher rate is likely a sign the regional economy is recovering faster, said Aleksandar Tomic, an economic program director at Boston College. He said the area has stronger employment numbers and the leisure and hospitality industry bounced back fairly quickly.

The region is leading in other ways: Tampa Bay outpaced most of the nation in the retail recovery; tourism surpassed pre-pandemic levels, and the metro area has the fastest-rising rent this year.

From September to November, prices in Tampa Bay went up 1.8 percent — more than double the national average at 0.8 percent, according to federal data.

Related: It’s a bad time to buy used cars in Tampa Bay. Blame the supply chain.

The Tampa Bay metro area — defined as Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties — saw the largest yearly surge in prices for everyday needs like gasoline, vehicles, meat and housing.

The cost of gasoline in the area rose 67.5 percent over November 2020. Used-car prices were up more than 30 percent. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs about 22 percent. Rent is up 8.7 percent.

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The big difference in this economic recovery compared to others in the past is that there’s more stimulus going to individuals and small businesses, Tomic said. People are more likely to spend money, which raises prices.

Also, a lot of the year-over-comparisons are measuring from pandemic lows, Tomic said.

“Gasoline was extremely low last year and we got used to it,” he said. “So now what would be close to normal seems outlandish.”

It’s hard to predict how long inflation will last. Both economists who spoke with the Tampa Bay Times said it could last at least months into 2022. Without the supply chain on track, Snipes said it could take a while.

Tomic said dealing with inflation quickly could come with a trade-off: slowing down the recovery.

“It’s between do you want to stop slightly higher prices or do you want a slower economy?” Tomic said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.