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Call it the 'backpack indicator'

Though Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says inflation remains soft - or below the Fed's 2 percent target - local back-to-school shoppers might disagree.

This week, Huntington Bank released its eighth-annual Backpack Index, which measures the average cost of school supplies and other items parents might purchase to support students' extracurricular activities.

As in prior years, the survey found these costs are going up far faster than inflation.

On average, the cost of school supplies has increased 7.3 percent since last year, dramatically outpacing 1.39 percent consumer price index inflation rate during the same time period.

The index includes costs for traditional school supplies like as paper, pencils and erasers. It also includes other extracurricular items, such as the price of renting musical instruments and costs associated with playing sports.

The costs vary, depending on whether parents are shopping for elementary, middle or high school students.

Parents of elementary and middle school children will pay 5.3 percent more for supplies this year, according to the survey. Huntington said the average elementary school parent is expected to spend about $577 their child's supplies, while middle school parents should spend about $763.

Parents of high school students will see the biggest jump, according to the survey. The $1,223 they will pay for their child's school and extracurricular supplies is up 9.5 percent compared to 2012. 

Bank analysts noted that parents who plan to buy their child a mid-priced tablet computer would end up paying nearly 36 percent more overall on items than they would have spent last year.

To compile the survey, Huntington officials obtain classroom-supply lists from a cross-section of schools throughout the six states in its banking territory. Analysts then compile a representative list of required supplies and fees.

The Huntington report said no one particular item spiked in price this year. Rather, small increases across the board accounted for the rising costs. 

Since the Backpack Index was first introduced in 2007, back-to-school costs have increased 22 percent for elementary school students, 43 percent for middle school students and 23 percent for high school students.

The bank said the most dramatic jump occurred in 2011 when many school districts imposed or hiked pay-for-play fees for students involved in extracurricular activities.

Meanwhile, back-to-school costs aren't the only prices consumers should be worried about in the coming months.

Futures prices for light sweet crude oil have been on a tear of late, going from about $95 a barrel in late June to nearly $109 a barrel last week. Egyptian political turmoil and a sharp drawdown in domestic supplies have been blamed for the recent spike.

Since the price of crude oil accounts for about 66 percent of the cost of a gallon of gas, that doesn't bode well for pump prices going into the end of the summer driving season.

According to AAA, West Virginia's average gas prices have already increased 24 cents in the last two weeks. Let's hope this isn't just the beginning...


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