Inflation is constantly in the headlines and FOX 5 is getting an inside look at who measures it and how.
Economists with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics track the prices of every good and service that you can legally buy in America.
"Big malls, little mom-and-pop shops, and everything in between," said BLS field economist Chris Hodakowski.
He and over 450 others are part of the effort to measure inflation by tracking price changes month to month. They look at the same products over time, including rental prices, groceries, haircuts, legal services, and auto repairs.
Hodakowski goes to businesses in person to do the work. On Tuesday, FOX 5 followed along for data collection at a Prince William County flower shop and a Montgomery County bakery. Economists are required by law to maintain confidentiality and not identify businesses publicly. Participation is voluntary.
At smaller stores and businesses economists typically survey owners about prices, but at larger stores Hodakowski says they often quietly blend in with customers to check prices on their own.
"We’re basically like a private eye," he said. "We are trying to track down all the information. We’re more in the background."
The latest consumer price index shows prices spiked 9.1% over this time last year.
Data shows the D.C. region is faring better than the national average at 7.5%. But that’s still the largest year over increase since 1982, according to BLS.
"Normally, when you’re at a dinner party and people ask you what you do, and you say you work on the consumer price index and you measure price changes, people’s eyes glaze over," said BLS Supervisory Economist Rebeccah Horn.
Horn said that’s changed as business owners and customers alike feel the pain of record prices. Like everyone else, economists are ready for their work to get off the daily news headlines.
"We like when the consumer price index is boring," Horn said.