Falling food and energy costs kept a lid on consumer prices during November and helped offset a pickup in new-car prices, the government said Friday in a report that added to signs inflation was not a problem with the economy in recession.

The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index, the most widely used gauge of inflation, was flat last month after declining 0.3 percent in October. But excluding lower costs for food and energy items, the so-called core CPI climbed a sharper-than-expected 0.4 percent — twice the 0.2 percent rise posted in October and the sharpest gain for any month since a matching 0.4 percent rise in January 1996.

New-car prices climbed 0.6 percent during November after a slight 0.1 percent gain in October. The department said this was the strongest rise in new-car prices since an identical 0.6 percent jump in January 1991.