The Cost of Living: Then and Now

July 14, 2020
Perri Schwartz

Sandy Springs, Georgia, United States

Class of 2021

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The cost of living in the 1950s compared to the beginning of 2020 is drastically different. Items, such as food and drinks did not cost a lot as they do now. Most things at the time only cost money in cents, and now all items in the United States cost money in dollars. 

How much would daily life cost in the 1950s? 

To be honest, not much. 70 years later since the ‘50s began, the inflation rate has gone WAY up, and I mean… WAY UP! Example: If you bought a hamburger in 1950, it only cost 12 cents, and as of last year, it went up to $3.81. That’s about 6 times more! 

The financial struggles: then and now.  

In 1950, the US dollar had the buying power of $9.87 today. This would make $10,000 of insurance money received back then $98,749.58 today.College tuition at the University of Pennsylvania was only $600 dollars. Now, college tuition at most American education institutions (colleges/universities) is more than $10,000 dollars. This means that back then, there were few people applying for financial aid. Now, there is $1.6 trillion in student loan debt in the United States and most students find themselves applying for financial aid, such as scholarships. 

Housing and Income

The cost of a house in the 1950s was about $15,000, compared to $200,000 today. The younger family paid $3,500 in down payment and $125 a month. On the other hand, the average household income was $3,300.00, which was $200 up in 1949. The latest data is from 2017, when the average income stood at $61,372, according to the US Census Bureau. The minimum wage at the time was only 75 cents per hour, and now it is only $7.50 per hour. 

Cars & Clothing

In 1950 the average cost of a new car was $1,510.00 and by 1959 was $2,200. Now, it is nearly $14,000. The rise in cost of cars are mostly due to new electronic and safety features. On the other hand, it is likely that a younger family would have a low clothing budget due to their economic status, and would often wear old and reused clothes. Most clothes cost below $5.00, while a men’s wool suit cost $45. 

Food and Gas

A gallon of gas cost $0.27 a gallon, compared to $2.67 today. The average American family spent a little more than $800 on food, compared to more than $8,000 today. A hamburger would cost 12 cents back then, compared to $3.81 today. This would estimate to about 22% of the average family income in 1950. 

Additional: The Economy and Living in the age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 is rapidly spreading across our nation, the US economy is also in big trouble. When people cannot go about their daily lives, businesses and corporations have to temporarily shut down, or either lay off, or furlough their employees, and stocks are plummeting. The prices of oil have dipped below zero, and there is a nationwide meat shortage to the closure of several meat plants. This is bad for business and our lives because the businesses, as well as us, cannot make money for a living. On another note, living without seeing our friends is a new normal that we all don’t want to live with, and it’s very challenging. 

Why we should be aware of our spending habits. 

As time goes on, we need to be aware of what we’re spending and how much that item costs, and it’s a huge factor to not get into debt. Budgeting is also very important so that you don’t keep getting unnecessary items. My advice to you is to buy what you need, and not want.

Perri Schwartz is a BBG from B’yachad BBG #2495 in Greater Atlanta Region #55. She has photographic memory, loves to fight for what she belives in, and hopes to be a professional journalist.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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