'Bacon Prices Soar to All-Time Highs': Let's Investigate

Not quite the Aporkalypse, yet

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For the second time in three years, bacon prices set an "all-time record." First, let's talk about why. Then, let's talk about why that might not be quite right.

Bacon is typically made from pork bellies, so when you're talking about the price of bacon you're talking about the price of pork, and there are a few reasons why pork futures are skyrocketing again.

It's our old friends, supply and demand. Wholesale beef prices saw a sharp spike this spring so families and chefs have been switching to pork just as hog numbers have been hit by a weird virus that's spreading through the U.S. herd. This year, bacon prices have renewed their annual upward summer trot. The price of bacon has been higher in August than April in 24 out of the last 30 years, and part of the explanation is that people just seem to want more bacon in the summer. (If you all switched faster to turkey bacon, we might not have this problem.)

The trouble with all-time highs is that they're usually not as "all-time" as they seem for two reasons. One is that we're limited by historical data and two is that we're confused by inflation. Check out the consumer price index for a pound of sliced bacon in America's largest cities, and the 30-year trend looks like this:

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This makes it look like bacon gets more expensive practically every year. But here's what it looks like when you inflation-adjust the August prices every five years.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 10.22.19 AM.png

More like a V than a slope. Today, the real price of bacon is actually lower than it was in the early 1980s and in mid-1982 in particular. But yes, you are paying more for bacon than you were ten years ago, perhaps by a factor of two. And, let's be honest: Bacon is still totally worth it.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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