Consumer prices slipped 0.1 percent last month, pulled down by sharply lower gas prices and cheaper air fares, used cars, and mobile phone plans.
The consumer price index rose just 1.9 percent in December from a year earlier, the Labor Department said Friday, the first time it has fallen below 2 percent since August 2017.
Excluding the volatile energy and food categories, core prices rose 0.2 percent for the third month in a row. They rose 2.2 percent from a year ago for the second straight month.
The figures suggest that the healthy economy is not yet creating widespread inflation pressures. That gives the Federal Reserve more leeway in deciding whether to raise short-term interest rates. Fed Chair Jerome Powell has said the Fed can be "patient" regarding rate hikes this year.
Gas prices plunged 7.5 percent in December, the most in almost three years. But food costs rose 0.4 percent last month, the biggest increase in 4 1/2 years.
Workers at General Mills unionize Iowa cereal mill
More than 500 workers at a General Mills cereal plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, voted this week to unionize in hopes of protecting wages and benefits.
The 520 nonsalaried plant workers will now be represented by Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSW), which also represents workers at the Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids.
"Everyone is still very grateful and thankful for our jobs at General Mills," said Tim Sarver, a worker at the plant for 36 years. "We decided to organize a campaign after we noticed there had been a trend over the years of slowly having benefits cut away."
General Mills, headquartered in Golden Valley, has owned the plant for 49 years. It makes cereal, fruit snacks and desserts at the site. Company spokesman Rob Litt said the company has a great relationship with the plant's workers.
"We respect our employees' right to make this choice and will work to have a productive relationship with the (union)," the company said in a statement.
SpaceX launches 10 more satellites
A SpaceX rocket delivered 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit on Friday, completing a two-year campaign by Iridium Communications Inc. to replace its original fleet with a new generation of mobile communication technology and added global aircraft tracking capability.
The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:31 a.m. and arced over the Pacific west of Los Angeles. The previously used first stage was recovered again with a bullseye landing on a "droneship" in the ocean while the upper stage continued on to orbit.
The eighth and final launch of the $3 billion Iridium NEXT project completed delivery of 75 new satellites to orbit for the McLean, Virginia, company. Sixty-six will be operational and nine will serve as in-orbit spares. Six other satellites remain on the ground as spares.
The first Iridium satellites were launched in the 1990s to offer voice, data, fax and paging services to customers with Iridium handheld telephones and pagers.