A woman looks over her grocery bill outside a supermarket in Queens, New York City, as inflation hits a 40-year high.

Publication Type

What caused the US pandemic-era inflation?

Ben S. Bernanke (Brookings Institution) and Olivier Blanchard (PIIE)

Working Papers 23-4
Photo Credit: Sipa USA/Anthony Behar

© Brookings Institution. Republished with permission.


Bernanke and Blanchard answer the question posed by the title by specifying and estimating a simple dynamic model of prices, wages, and short-run and long-run inflation expectations. The estimated model allows them to analyze the direct and indirect effects of product-market and labor-market shocks on prices and nominal wages and to quantify the sources of US pandemic-era inflation and wage growth. The authors find that, contrary to early concerns that inflation would be spurred by overheated labor markets, most of the inflation surge that began in 2021 was the result of shocks to prices given wages. These shocks included sharp increases in commodity prices, reflecting strong aggregate demand, and sectoral price spikes, resulting from changes in the level and sectoral composition of demand together with constraints on sectoral supply. However, although tight labor markets have thus far not been the primary driver of inflation, the authors find that the effects of overheated labor markets on nominal wage growth and inflation are more persistent than the effects of product-market shocks. Controlling inflation will thus ultimately require achieving a better balance between labor demand and labor supply.

Data Disclosure:

The data underlying this analysis are available here [zip].

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