High Food Prices in the Virgin Islands

Gao ID: CED-82-23 December 16, 1981

GAO was asked to determine actual food price differences between the Virgin Islands and other locations such as Washington, D.C.; southwest Florida; and Puerto Rico. GAO was also asked to determine whether any such differences have increased or decreased in recent years. GAO obtained and analyzed food price data from three different sources: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Each source used a different approach to assembling and analyzing its data, and these differences were reflected in the results. The results generally indicated that food prices are higher in the Virgin Islands than in Washington, D.C.; southwest Florida; and Puerto Rico. The amounts of the differences depended on the data gathered and the approaches used. Using different sets of data, Virgin Islands food prices ranged from 26 to 56 percent higher than food prices in Washington, D.C., and the price differences between the two areas have generally increased in recent years. None of the approaches used indicated changes in food prices in relation to changes in income or any other indicator. BLS measured specified units of measurement of 61 food items in various food outlets in Washington, D.C.; the Virgin Islands; and southwest Florida. This analytical approach is affected by the items and food outlet selected and the absence of items being weighted by importance. USDA measured 11 groups of food items defined as necessary to provide a nutritional diet. This was probably the best of the three approaches. However, it had a static base and did not reflect changes in individual food habits. The cost-of-living index used by OPM includes food items which closely resemble what many U.S. households buy but provides no comparison other than from each location to Washington, D.C.

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