WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve’s closely watched inflation gauge remained very high last month, the latest sign that prices for most goods and services in the United States are still rising steadily.

Friday’s report from the Commerce Department showed that prices rose 6.2% in September from 12 months earlier, the same rate as in August.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called core prices rose 5.1% last month from a year earlier. That’s faster than the 4.9% annual gain in August, though below the four-decade high of 5.4% reached in February.

The latest price figures come just as Americans head to the polls in midterm elections in which Democrats’ control of Congress is at stake and inflation has topped voters’ concerns. Republicans have blamed President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress for the spike in prices that has hit households across the country.

Persistently high inflation, near the worst in four decades, has increased pressure on the Fed to continue aggressively raising its key short-term interest rate to try to get price rises under control. Last month, the Fed raised its key rate by a significant three-quarters of a point for the third time in a row, and is expected to do so for the fourth time next week.

Higher pay helps many workers keep costs down. In the July-September quarter, wages increased by 5% compared to last year. This was a healthy increase, slightly below the two-decade high of 5.1% reached in April-June.

However, there are signs that wage growth is cooling slightly. On a quarterly basis, it grew by 1.2% from the April-June quarter to the July-September period. Still, it marked the second quarterly slowdown since compensation growth hit a 20-year high of 1.4% in the first three months of 2022.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell earlier cited Friday’s payrolls numbers, known as the employment cost index, as one of the most important measures of workers’ pay. Since the pandemic ended, the index has risen sharply, with companies offering more generous pay and benefits to attract and retain workers.

Businesses often pass the cost of this higher payment on to their customers in the form of higher prices, thereby exacerbating inflation. As a result, the Fed may welcome a slight slowdown in wage growth as a sign that inflationary pressures are easing.

While consumers spent at a solid pace last month, there were signs in Friday’s report that the trend may not last. Many Americans are using their savings to keep up with inflated spending on groceries, rent and utilities, or taking on more credit card debt. The savings rate fell to 3.1% in June, just above 3%, the lowest level in 14 years.

Americans, on average, built up their savings during the pandemic, when many people stayed home, postponed travel and vacations, and dined out less. Economists estimate that the extra savings totaled about $2.4 trillion last year, mostly among higher-income Americans. But they are shrinking and now stand at about $1.5 trillion.

Friday’s report also showed that consumers spent more last month, even after adjusting for inflation, suggesting Americans are eager to keep spending amid high prices. From August to September, consumer spending rose by 0.6%, or by 0.3% adjusted for price increases.

“A modest slowdown in wage growth is certainly welcome by the Fed, but won’t prevent a 0.75 percentage point rate hike at next week’s FOMC meeting,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

The central bank’s latest rate hikes are well above the quarter-point increases it has typically used in the past when it sought to tighten lending to fight inflation. But after being caught off guard late last year when prices accelerated much more than Fed policymakers expected, officials are raising their base rate at the fastest pace in four decades. By doing so, they increase the risk of a recession – something many economists expect will happen next year as a result.

The Fed’s hike has led to much higher interest rates for businesses and consumers, especially mortgages. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose more than 7% this week, according to Freddie Mac, the highest level in two decades and more than double what it was a year ago.

The rapid rise in borrowing costs has destroyed the housing market. Existing home sales have declined for eight straight months and fell nearly 25% last year. Sales and construction of new homes are also falling.

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A weak housing market has slowed the economy as fewer home purchases also drag on sales of furniture, appliances and home improvement equipment.

House prices, which had soared during the pandemic, eventually began to fall. The S&P Case-Shiller home price index fell for the second month in a row between July and August, according to the latest available data.

But that fall has not yet been reflected in the government’s measures of housing costs, which include rents, which for many people are still rising as their leases are extended. It may take until late spring or summer before falling home prices are reflected in government inflation indices. This delay could keep official inflation figures from falling significantly over the next few months.

Car prices are also showing early signs of easing, although they are still significantly higher than before the pandemic. Car prices rose 0.1% from August to September, the slowest increase in six months.

The Fed tracks Friday’s inflation measure, called the personal consumer price index, more closely than it does the government’s better-known consumer price index. Earlier this month, the government said CPI rose 8.2% in September from a month earlier, down from June’s 9.1% rise, the biggest in four decades. The decrease was mainly due to lower gas prices.

The PCE index tends to show a lower rate of inflation than the CPI. Rents, rising at the fastest rate in 35 years, weigh twice as much in the CPI as in the PCE.

The PCE price index also seeks to account for changes in the way people shop when inflation jumps. As a result, it can capture, for example, when consumers switch from expensive national brands to cheaper private label brands.