A selection of beef cuts is displayed at a Publix Supermarket, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Miami. The Labor Department said Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, that consumer prices jumped 7.5% last month compared with a year earlier, the steepest year-over-year increase since February 1982. The acceleration of prices ranged across the economy, from food and furniture to apartment rents, airline fares and electricity. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
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Got milk?

If so, it’s probably cheaper than it was a year ago. But a glass of wine likely cost you more.

Dairy products was one of the few grocery groups to actually fall in price in February compared to a year earlier, according to new regional inflation figures released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Alcoholic beverage prices, however, were up 8.8% in February in South Florida.

South Florida continues experiencing the highest inflation in the nation while also one of the hottest job markets. Yet, wage growth has slowed considerably from the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic.n

Here is a closer look at what the February statistics released this week tell us about how the region is faring when it comes to the two key economic indicators.

Regional consumer inflation was up 4.9% last month compared to a year ago. That is much stronger than the national inflation rate at 3.2%

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Even while the cost increases of other categories like food and energy are tracking similar to the national data, home and rent costs have propped up the regional inflation rate for months.

While the rate of inflation has slowed, it means prices are still climbing two years after the Federal Reserve first began raising its target short-term interest rate to tame the pandemic-inducted inflation. Meat, poultry, fish and egg prices were essentially flat over the past year. New and used auto prices continue falling in real dollars. And gasoline was less expensive.

Other than home and rent expenses, alcoholic drinks, clothing and recreation prices all outpaced the overall regional annual inflation rate in February.

Prices are a political issue this election year. President Joe Biden addressed what’s known as “shrinkflation” in his State of the Union Address. That’s when consumer companies keep their prices steady but it buys less of a product.

“My top economic priority is lowering costs and today’s report shows we continue to make progress on that front,” the president said in a statement released by the White House after Tuesday’s inflation data was released.

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But in a statement Monday touting the state’s latest job gains, Florida Secretary of Commerce J. Alex Kelly drew a contrast with what he called “inflationary pressures created by D.C.”

While the regional economy continues to experience the strongest inflation pressures, it also has one of the lowest unemployment rates.

The February jobless figure was 2.4%, giving South Florida the second lowest rate in the nation behind the Baltimore area. The national unemployment rate was 3.9% in February, up slightly from a month earlier.

“We haven’t had a stretch like this in quite literally 50 years. That’s how long it’s been since we’ve had unemployment this low,” former U.S. Secretary of Labor and current White House Senior Advisor Tom Perez told The Florida Roundup on Friday. “And wage growth is higher than inflation growth.”

That is true for the national data but not in South Florida. Average weekly earnings barely budged in January compared to a year earlier – increasing by only $3. It’s a big slowdown from two years ago when the average regional weekly paychecks grew by six percent. Slower growing or even stagnant wages mean South Florida workers feel more of the heat from persistent inflation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who suspended his presidential campaign in January, likes to compare Florida’s job market to the nation.

“Florida has started off the year strong by growing jobs at twice the national average,” he said in a statement Monday, after the latest Florida jobs figures were released. DeSantis is comparing the growth rate of private sector jobs month-over-month in Florida with the country as a whole. Florida added 37,900 jobs in January. U.S. employers added 177,000.

Miami-Dade County’s jobless rate continued to be the lowest in the state at 1.4% last month. The unemployment rates in both Broward and Palm Beach counties were just above 3% at the beginning of the year.

The region added almost 8,000 jobs when adjusted for seasonal factors.

Tom Hudson

Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent. His work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.

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Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent. His work appears under a partnership between WLRN and the Key Biscayne Independent.