If you think cost of living pressures in Australia are out of control, the ABS has some news for you

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  • There’s no shortage of headlines in Australia about how bad cost of living pressures are.
  • According to estimates from the ABS, rather than being acute, cost of living pressures are actually very weak.
  • Regardless of where their main source of income comes from, all household groups saw expenses increase at the slowest pace in several years.

Headlines about cost of living pressures are in plentiful supply in Australia right now, particularly in political circles. There’s likely to be a fair few more in the lead up to election on May 18.

However, are cost of living pressures as acute as we’re being told they are?

According to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Wednesday, the answer is actually no.

Rather than being out of control, they’re actually quite muted, regardless of what your main source of income is.

The chart below is the Bureau’s Selected Living Cost (LCI) Indexes, a measure of how much after-tax incomes need to change to allow households to purchase the same quantity of consumer goods and services as they did in the past.

How fast their after-tax income needs to grow to keep up with living expenses, essentially.

This differentiates it from the consumer price index (CPI) which is designed to measure price movements in a select basket of goods and services commonly purchased by metropolitan households.

The LCI breaks down the results by household type, depending on the largest source of income.

Employee households have wages and salaries as their main source of income, while for self-funded retiree households it comes from superannuation or property income.

Age pensioner households receive most of their income from the age pension while other government transfer recipient households are those receiving a government pension other than the age pension.

The ABS estimates expenses for each household by category and then applies weightings to derive the the final LCI for each group.

ABS

In the March quarter, after tax-incomes didn’t need to increase by all that much to keep up with living expenses, especially for self-funded retiree households where the cost of living actually declined by 0.2%.

Elsewhere, the LCI for households whose main source of income is their salary was unchanged, while those receiving an old age or other government pension saw their LCI increase by 0.2% to 0.3%.

From 12 months earlier, the LCI for all household groups rose between 1.4% to 1.6%, the weakest increase in several years.

Cost of living expenses for government pension households rose at the slowest pace since mid-2016, while those for self-funded retirees grew at the slowest pace since late 2016.

Employee households — the largest group by number — saw their living expenses increase at weakest pace in nearly two years.

While we will have to wait until Australia’s March quarter GDP report in early June to see how fast average household disposable incomes grew over the same period, it’s likely to reveal that cost of living pressures actually declined over the past year, at least according to the ABS estimates.

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