Lower U.S. gasoline prices kept consumer inflation in check last month, helping offset higher costs for food and clothing.
The Labor Department says the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March, after scant 0.1 percent increases the previous two months. Prices have risen just 1.5 percent year over year. That remains well below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for inflation.
Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices increased 0.2 percent in March and 1.7 percent in the past year.
Prices at the gas pump tumbled 1.7 percent in March, lowering costs for the entire energy category.
But food prices jumped 0.4 percent, led by increases in eggs, milk, butter, oranges, pork chops, ground beef and poultry. Prices for clothing, used cars and cable television also rose.
Experts say prices could rise even more with a severe drought ravaging farms across most of California.