Basic food items have become several times cheaper in the past century.

In a study done by Human Progress they found that basic food items in America have become almost eight times cheaper relative to unskilled labor over the last 100 years. The study was conducted by looking at Retail Prices, 1913 to December 1919: Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, No. 270, which was published in 1921. They looked at the nominal prices of 42 food items – ranging from a pound of sirloin steak to a dozen oranges, expressed those nominal prices in terms of hours of human labor, then found the nominal prices of the same goods (including, of course, the same quantity of those goods) on Walmart’s website, which is where most unskilled laborers shop in 2019.

Here is the data Human Progress found:

  • The time price (i.e. nominal price divided by nominal hourly wage) of our basket of commodities fell from 47 hours of work to ten (see the Totals line in column five).
  • The unweighted average time price fell by 79 percent (see the Totals line in column six).
  • Put differently, for the same amount of work that allowed an unskilled laborer to purchase one basket of the 42 commodities in 1919, he or she could buy 7.6 baskets in 2019 (see the Totals line in column seven).
  • The compounded rate of “affordability” of our basket of commodities rose at 2.05 percent per year (see the Totals line in column eight).
  • Put differently, an unskilled laborer saw his or her purchasing power double every 34 years (see the Totals line in column nine).

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Written ByMike Luso

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