By John W. Schoen Senior Producer
msnbc.com

Q: When negotiating for an annual cost-of-living adjustment, what would that percentage be?
Lisa S. — Granger, Wash.

A: You can ask for whatever you want. Tell them if Dick Grasso is worth $140 million, so are you.

But if you want to stick with what the government data suggests, the cost of living — as measured by the consumer price index — is up 2.2 percent for the latest 12 months That’s as of August, the freshest numbers available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The folks sitting across the table may counter that the inflation rate in your region is lower htan the national average, but in the Seattle area the number is just about the same.

You can counter with BLS data showing that -- regardless of what the price index shows -- wages are rising more quickly. If you're working in private industry, wages on average were up 3.5 percent over the past 12 months (as of the second quarter of this year.) If your a state or local government workers, you'll be able to make a better argument -- wages there have gone up 4.1 percent over the same period. (Your bargaining adversaries will almost certainly counter that wages have risen much more slowly -- 1 percent or less -- in the latest 3 months recorded by the BLS.)

The "official" Cost Of Living Adjustment -- pegged once a year to calculate how much to raise Social Security checks -- is due out next month. Over the past 25 years, that number has soared as high as 14.3 percent (a nice raise, but raging inflation ate up almost all of it) to a low of 1.3 percent in 1998. Last October, the increase was pegged at 1.4 percent.

In the case of wage data, the BLS also serves up the data sliced by regionbut they aren't as fresh. The latest data in your area is from Sept., 2002.

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