Propelled by sharp increases in gasoline prices, the cost of living for Wasatch Front residents climbed 0.8 percent in March, according to First Security Corp.

In its monthly report on local consumer prices, First Security said transportation costs rose 8.4 percent last month after declining in February. Higher maintenance costs for autos were blamed along with gasoline prices, which have increased as much as 20 cents a gallon since the Alaskan oil spill last month.First Security's monthly cost of living report indicates the 0.8 percent increase locally compares with a non-seasonally adjusted increase of 0.6 percent nationally for the month. On an "annualized" basis, said economist Kelly K. Matthews, the local rate of inflation in March would equal 9.7 percent.

First Security's Wasatch Front Inflation Index is at 98.9 for March, indicating a 1.1 percent decrease in inflation from a year ago. Figured nationally, the index is at 105.4, a 5.4 percent increase. The index is figured from a base of 100 in March 1988, when the inflation index was begun.

Without the increase in transportation and a slight jump in health-care costs, the cost of living locally would have been down in March as the other categories either declined or remained stable.

-Grocery costs locally declined 2.9 percent in March, following three straight months of increases. This compares with a 0.6 percent increase nationally. Prices of meat, alcoholic beverages, produce and shelf items were all down. For the past six months, local grocery prices are up 3.3 percent compared with a 3.1 percent increase nationwide.

-Restaurant costs also fell in March along the Wasatch Front, down 1.5 percent compared with a 0.4 percent increase nationally. Beef dishes and desserts led the price declines. For the past six months, restaurant prices are down 2.0 percent compared with an increase of 2.1 percent nationally.

-Clothing costs showed a decline locally in March - down 1.1 percent - for the fourth consecutive month, compared with a 3.5 percent increase nationally. While costs of men's and women's apparel were down, children's clothes had higher price tags.

-Residential utility bills locally were down 1.6 percent in March, the second consecutive monthly decrease. Lower electric bills led the way, declining 6.7 percent following increases in February. For the past six months, local utility bills are down 4.1 percent compared with a 0.3 percent increase nationally.

-Housing expenses - based on rental rates - were virtually stable locally in March (up 0.04 percent), compared with a national increase of 0.3 percent. For the past six months, housing costs are down 2.2 percent locally and are up 1.3 percent nationally.

-Health care costs rose 0.7 percent locally, following four months of decline. Higher prices for non-prescription drugs and hospital care were cited. For the six months, local health care costs are down 0.5 percent, compared to a 3.7 percent decline nationally.

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(Chart)

Cost of living index

Wasatch Front

INDEX NON-SEAS. ADJ.

Mar. 1988=100 6 MOS. CUM MAR.

All categories 98.9 -1.4% 0.8%

Housing 96.5 -2.2% 0.0%

Transportation 100.6 -0.4% 8.4%

Health Care 99.5 -3.7% 0.7%

Food at Home 107.3 -3.3% -2.9%

Clothing 93.3 -3.5% -1.1%

Food Away 99.9 -2.0% -1.5%

Utilities 95.4 -4.1% -1.6%

Other 100.4 -0.7% 0.4%

National

INDEX NON-SEAS. ADJ. SEAS. ADJ.

Mar. 1988=100 6 MOS. CUM. MAR. MAR.

All categories 105.4 2.1% 0.6% 0.5%

Housing 104.2 1.3% 0.3% 0.3%

Transportation 104.8 2.1% 0.3% 0.6%

Health Care 107.8 4.1% 0.6% 0.5%

Food at Home 107.5 3.1% 0.6% 0.5%

Clothing 108.1 1.4% 3.5% 1.4%

Food Away 105.3 2.1% 0.4% 0.4%

Utilities 103.4 -0.3% 0.0% 0.2%

Other 107.6 3.1% 0.2% 0.6%