Prices at a US gasoline station (file)
Prices at a US gasoline station (file)

WASHINGTON — Higher gasoline costs pushed U.S. consumer prices up half a percent in June, but overall inflation is still tame.

Tuesday’s report from the Labor Department says outside the volatile areas of energy and food, overall prices rose just 1.6 percent over the past 12 months.

That is a bit below the level that U.S. experts say is best for the economy.

A separate report shows U.S. industrial production rose three-tenths of a percent in June. That means the output from factories, mines, and utilities grew more than in the previous month.

These and many other studies are under consideration as the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve prepares to to give members of Congress a mid-year assessment of the world’s largest economy on Wednesday and Thursday.

Bernanke may give details about when he and his colleagues will cut back efforts to stimulate the economy.

Previously, he said when the economy strengthens and no longer needs so much help, the Fed will reduce a complex program aimed at cutting long-term interest rates by purchasing $85 billion a month in securities.  Lower long-term rates make it easier for businesses to buy equipment and for families to purchase homes and cars.

Another Fed stimulus effort has been to cut short-term interest rates nearly to zero. The bank has said those short-term rates are likely to stay at ultra-low levels at least until the unemployment rate drops below 6.5 percent, which probably won’t happen until next year.

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