Regional and Income Disparities in Cost of Living Changes: Evidence from Egypt (This paper received "Best Paper Award, Microeconomics Theme, Economic Research Forum Annual Conference, July 2018".)
Inflation has been rising in Egypt since 2007, and reached record levels in 2017. It was more pronounced in rural Egypt and likely hurt the poor proportionately more, since rising food prices were a major factor behind higher prices over this period. Moreover, rising prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), do not accurately measure changes in the cost of living. When inflation is high, people resort to substitution to hedge themselves against a declining standard of living. Regardless of price changes, habit formation and taste changes can also render the fixed basket of the CPI less representative over time. To accurately monitor changes in the cost of attaining a given utility level, I constructed True Cost of Living Indices (TCLI) and used them to examine the regional and income disparities in cost of living changes, and the extent of the bias in the CPI. Results confirmed that cost of living increases were higher in rural regions, and that there were far larger regional disparities in cost of living increases over time using the TCLI. The bias in the CPI was quite substantial, ranging from underestimating the change in cost of living by 1.86 percentage points, to overestimating it by 1.05 percentage points, depending on region. Finally, I found strong evidence that households at the bottom of the expenditure distribution fared much worse. Depending on region, cost of living increases were 2.8 to 4.1 percentage points higher per year for the poorest urban households than for the richest, during the period under study.