AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer prices climbed 0.4% in March, an increase caused mostly by higher costs for gasoline, electricity and shelter.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the consumer price index rose a healthy 1.9% last month from a year ago, a sharp jump from the annual pace of 1.5% in February.

Inflation has been relatively modest even as the job market has strengthened and wage gains have accelerated over the past several years. The Trump administration has been highlighting the meager inflation as the president calls on the Federal Reserve to cut a key short-term interest rate.

But consumer prices in March suggested that the Fed can remain patient, as the figures were essentially near its 2% target.

“Overall, the March CPI data is another month of goldilocks inflation,” said Leslie Preston, a senior economist at TD Bank.

Still, inflation in the form of commodity prices for gasoline and electricity roared in March, eating into wage growth. Average hourly wages have increased 1.3% in the past year, down from an annual gain of 1.9% in February.

Roughly 60% of inflation last month came from a 3.5% increase in energy prices.

Excluding the volatile energy and food categories, core prices increased 0.1% in March and 2% from a year ago.

Housing costs are also increasing faster than overall inflation, surging 3.4% from a year ago. But prices for clothing and medical care commodities has fallen over the past year, while inflation has been slight for new vehicles and used cars and trucks.

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