American households paid a lot more for house cleaners and movers in May, data from the Department of Labor showed Thursday.
The government calculates the price of moving, storing, and shipping expenses as a component of its index for shelter in the broader Consumer Price Index. In May, the index for the prices related to moving shot up 5.5 percent. Compared with a year ago, the moving index is up 16.2 percent.
That is by far the largest monthly and annual gain for the index in records going back to 1997. On a monthly basis, the previous record high was October 2017’s 5.1 percent rise. On average, this index rises just two-tenths of a point each month.
The government also tracks a category it calls “domestic services,” which is mostly the price of house cleaners. It excludes lawn care. Cleaning prices jumped 6.4 percent in May, doubling the next highest increase set in December of 2020. Prior to the pandemic, the largest ever increase was in October of 2006, when prices rose 2.6 percent. On an annual basis, cleaning is up 13.7 percent, also a record.
This is clear evidence of a labor shortage that is likely rooted in the pandemic unemployment benefits that now reach the self-employed and pay many workers more than they got while on the job. What’s more, as vaccinations have spread more people are comfortable having their houses cleaned by employees, driving up demand. And the ongoing housing boom is pushing up demand for movers, although recent sales volumes have sagged a bit because of very high prices.
In a separate report Thursday, the Department of Labor said that there were nearly 6.4 million people on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program launched last year that provides unemployment benefits to contractors, people seeking part-time work, and the self-employed. Many people who typically work as movers and house cleaners are eligible for benefits under this program. Combined with the stimulus payments authorized in March, this may have had the effect of discouraging people from accepting often physically exhausting work as cleaners and movers.
Prices for core goods and services, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 0.7 percent in May and were up 3.8 percent from a year ago, the largest monthly jump since June 1992.