(Bloomberg) — The consumer price index continued to draw relatively weak response rates in 2023, calling to question the accuracy of the widely watched US inflation data.

The share of completed surveys that were used in the CPI estimation stood at 71% in 2023, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. While that’s been ticking up in recent years, it’s still well below the pre-pandemic trend of near 80%.

The BLS had to adjust its collection methods when the pandemic hit, converting to phone, email and online surveys that had previously been done in person. Response rates for a broad range of data have struggled to rebound, leading economists to wonder whether the figures can be trusted.

“We publish response rates annually to assist the data user in judging the accuracy of CPI data,” the BLS says on its website.

Response rates vary by sector — for example, it’s improved in for apparel since Covid-19 but others like medical care have experienced sharp declines. The overall share used in the estimation was 78.7% in 2019, almost 8 percentage points higher than 2023. In some sectors, the rate remains 10 percentage points lower.

Separate data from the BLS earlier Friday confirmed US inflation was on a downward trend at the end of last year, after incorporating the agency’s annual revisions. Federal Reserve officials are looking for more evidence that price pressures are sustainably retreating before cutting interest rates.

Written by: Alex Tanzi @Bloomberg

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