1% inflation!

Hard to believe, isn't it? Here was the US inflation rate for the month of March plummeting -- yes, actually dropping -- 0.3 percent, the biggest monthly decline since November, 1953, back in President Dwight Eisenhower's first year in office. That meant that the inflation rate for the first three months of 1982 figures out to an annual rate of -- would you believe? -- 1 percent. It seems almost impossible after those double digit rates of 13.3 percent and 12.4 percent back in 1979 and 1980.

For consumers, the March numbers were especially welcome in two areas: declines in food prices (especially fresh vegetables) as well as fuel costs. Whether the declines will continue in subsequent months is questionable, however.

Many experts believe energy costs will either stabilize, or even go up slightly. And there is the possibility that once the economy picks up steam later this year - and consumers start spending again, perhaps in part triggered by the upcoming July tax cut -- inflation could scoot upward. And, of course, social security recipients will find smaller increases in their cost of living benefits compared to last year, even though some expenses, such as medical care, continue to rise. On the other hand, their 7.4 percent benefits hike will still be larger than wage hikes received by millions of working Americans this year.

The particularly good news in the March figures should not be ignored. That is that there is now somewhat more room for real growth in the economy. How is that? Because the Federal Reserve Board has been determined to stay the course in gradually reducing the rate in the growth of the nation's money supply. This means that, taking into account the total supply of money that the Fed provides, the less money that has to be used to offset inflation the more there is for providing real growth in the economy. The decline in the inflation rate also means an easing of pressure on labor unions to seek large-scale wage hikes.

Finally, amidst all the euphoria, it is important to recall that this is only the inflation scorecard for March. The battle is far from finished, as the Federal Reserve Board and the Reagan administration have both noted. Stay tuned for the April results . . .

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