Are Americans working longer and harder today for the same level of overall material wealth?

AlongCameJones

Sharpshooter
Joined
Jun 8, 2021
Messages
127
Reaction score
75
Location
Lawton, Ok
Is the modern American working class working longer hours, working harder (burning more calories), and/or enjoying less R&R time than their parent's generation and/or grandparents' did to enjoy a similar level of material wealth? The material goal of the American middle-class has generally always been a new suburban single-family unit home and at least one new car in the household. Still, we want plenty of personal time to go boating, fishing, hunting, camping, go to the skeet field to prep for dove season, train our retrievers for pheasant and duck, and go on holiday for the summer. Outdoors people want the time and means to play as hard as they work. We don't want to spend all our personal time painting the house, putting in new toilets, repairing wiring and fixing fences so a new home under warranty is attractive in that way. It's more fun to hunt and fish than to weed and mow lawns on weekends.

Do we have to have a higher level of education these days than our parent's and grandparent's did to enjoy a certain level of living? How many man-hours does a carpenter, electrician, machinist, welder, plumber, mechanic, etc. by trade have to work to pay for a new car or a new home now vs 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago?

I'm trying to determine how strong our earning and buying power is now vs any other time in our history. Prices and costs of living have gone up. Are our earnings generally on par with the general cost of things? How much time and energy are we devoting these days to having things of economic value vs previous generations' effort to do such?

Is it now tougher for a bachelor (single adult) to acquire a certain degree of a material wealth and live a middle-class standard of living now than at any time before in our history? Being a bachelor eliminates a spouse as possible source of extra income.


I did a calculation

1981 Toyota Corolla most expensive model original MSRP: $7,000
1981 federal min. wage = $3.35/hr.
federal min. wage hours worked to achieve gross pay to cover MSRP: 2,089

1995 Toyota Corolla most expensive model original MSRP: $17,000
1995 federal min. wage=$4.25/hr.
federal min. wage hours worked to achieve gross pay to cover MSRP: 4,000

2021 Toyota Corolla most expensive model original MSRP: $28,000
2021 federal min. wage=$7.25/hr.
federal min. wage hours worked to achieve gross pay to cover MSRP: 3,860


You can see that a new well-equipped 1995 Toyota Corolla was significantly harder to work for than a similar car in 1981 based upon fed. min. wage. Almost double the work hours needed to cover new car price. A new 2021 such car is not quite as hard to earn as it was in 1995. Fed. min. wage is way under par with the costs of things now vs 40 years ago. Look at how much longer and harder you have to work nowadays for a new well-equipped econobox vs 40 years ago.

Does a carpenter or mason in 2021 with 5 years on-the-job experience have to work longer and harder to buy a new well-equipped Toyota truck in 2021 or a new SFU home than he did in 1981 and/or 2001? These are skilled trades.

Still, by my calculation above it seems a McDonald's burger-flipper in 1981 could buy a decent new or used car then with many less hours worked than he can now. American working class had significant more buying power 40 years ago. At least the min. wage class could buy more in 1981 for their thin slice of take-home bread.

Over the past 40 years, fed. min. wage has slightly more than doubled but new econobox prices have quadrupled. Have the wages of carpenters, machinists, masons, electricians and plumbers also at least quadrupled over the past 40 years?
 
Last edited:

Catt57

Gill-Gun Guru
Supporter
Joined
Aug 1, 2014
Messages
4,338
Reaction score
6,517
Location
OKC
Looking at an inflation index $1 dollar in 1981 = $3.02 dollars today

Also consider that other items have run the opposite direction.
For example: a 20-inch color TV was about $200 in 1981 (About $1,200 adjusted for inflation). Now you can get a 40"+ flat TV for $250
.



 

AlongCameJones

Sharpshooter
Joined
Jun 8, 2021
Messages
127
Reaction score
75
Location
Lawton, Ok
Looking at an inflation index $1 dollar in 1981 = $3.02 dollars today

Also consider that other items have run the opposite direction.
For example: a 20-inch color TV was about $200 in 1981 (About $1,200 adjusted for inflation). Now you can get a 40"+ flat TV for $250
.

Yes, consumer electronics have gotten disproportionately cheaper over the years. My family bought a new top-loading 2-head, no hi-fi, no stereo, Sylvania VHS VCR in 1982 for a stupid $1,200 !!! Wired remote control on long cord and took a bachelor degree to figure out how to program. I bought a new Panasonic Blu-Ray disc player in 2014 for about $100. I bought a new 4-head hi-fi front-loading Sony VHS VCR in 1999 for about $200 with wireless remote and easy programming. They have gotten below $100 new in following years before the DVD and Blu-Ray market took them over. My Samsung 40" SmartTV was about $700 from Best Buy new in 2014. LED model and not a single pixel has burned out yet. Still I have both the same TV set and the same Blu-Ray player in mint condition in my living room.

Automobiles and homes are much more needful to most Americans than TV's and stereos however. Used cars and pickups even 15-20 years old are stupid pricey these days.


Looking at an inflation index $1 dollar in 1981 = $3.02 dollars today

$3.35/hr. for 1981 should be then $10.18/hr. today adjusted for inflation.

A new well-equipped Corolla then should only retail for $21,140.

$21,140 divided by $10.18/hr = 2,077 hours worked to cover MSRP, wow pretty close to the same number of hours of sweat and bosses hollering in your ears to have earned that new 1981 loaded Corolla 40 years ago. Cars are now overpriced. Workers are now underpaid.
 
Last edited:

TwoForFlinching

Sharpshooter
Joined
Aug 14, 2012
Messages
10,363
Reaction score
5,466
Location
Lawton
If $1 in 1981 is equivalent to $3 in 2021, then a $200 tv in 1981 costs $600 today.

Funny thing inflation is, costs go up but pay doesn't follow at a similar pace. Compare the cost of college hours from the 80's to now. Add in predatory lending, an education is debt these days.
 
Last edited:

Snattlerake

Sharpshooter
Supporter
Joined
Jan 19, 2019
Messages
10,617
Reaction score
11,989
Location
OKC
If you are making minimum wage in 1981 or 2021 you are not going to get a new most expensive model of car. You are going to finance a beater and it will nickel and dime you to death along with title and taxes, gas, oil, and insurance, plus your credit rating is crap so your interest rate is too.
Your initial premise is faulty.

I guarantee on the farm you worked for your income. As a boy, my grandfather hoed fields with a hoe and harvested wheat with a scythe. Later, he tilled and planted with horse-drawn equipment. In the 60's dad always said he wished his father could see a modern-day tractor and the equipment it could pull.
 
Last edited:

AlongCameJones

Sharpshooter
Joined
Jun 8, 2021
Messages
127
Reaction score
75
Location
Lawton, Ok
My premise is true. The single dollar an American earned in 1981 (in terms of any good serviceable motorized vehicle) had much more buying power than it does today regardless of income level. Still, new car or no new car, a minimum wage earner could buy, vehicle-wise, more in 1981 than now. I bought a new (1982 model) Honda CM250 Custom street motorcycle in 1984 for under $1K OTD cash. My mother made a small loan to me interest free and I had it paid off within a year. I was working minimum wage at a hamburger joint before I went into the army 4 years later. I quit my burger job in summer of '87 I had a newspaper job, 1987-88, for a year before the army. The last I checked, a new Honda street motorcycle starts out at $5K. I wasn't raised on a farm but in coastal suburban middle-class northern California where I was living and starting out in a humble career in the 1980's. I was assigned to Fort Sill here in 1989. The following year I bought a new (small) Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais 2.5L factory-a/c coupe here in Lawton. About $10,500 OTD. $5K down and GMAC financing. I had money to pee away in the military. $1,650/mo base pay as an E-4. Annual uniform allowance on top of that. Three hot mess hall squares. Single, lived in barracks, no rent. No electric bill. For a while, I was riding a $99 bicycle on Fort Sill. A Murray pee-wee-herman coaster brake model I bought at the Monkey Wards in town here then. A soldier's life was really a sham. I had a TV and VCR in my barracks even and a barracks fridge. I did have a barracks cable bill, about $20/mo. I think for basic. No telephone bill. Phone booth outside.
 
Last edited:

Snattlerake

Sharpshooter
Supporter
Joined
Jan 19, 2019
Messages
10,617
Reaction score
11,989
Location
OKC
My premise is true. The single dollar an American earned in 1981 had much more buying power than it does today regardless of income level. Still, new car or no new car, a minimum wage earner could buy, vehicle-wise, more in 1981 than now. I bought a new Honda CM250 Custom street motorcycle in 1984 for under $1K OTD cash. My mother made a small loan to me interest free and I had it paid off within a year. I was working minimum wage at a hamburger joint before I went into the army 4 years later. I quit my burger job in summer of '87 I had a newspaper job, 1987-88, for a year before the army. The last I checked, a new Honda street motorcycle starts out at $5K.
Your mother is not a conventional means to a loan. Why did you use your mother? Credit rating? High interest rates? Interest free, that's why. Do you think you could have paid off the note with 21 percent interest within a year?
 

AlongCameJones

Sharpshooter
Joined
Jun 8, 2021
Messages
127
Reaction score
75
Location
Lawton, Ok
Your mother is not a conventional means to a loan. Why did you use your mother? Credit rating? High interest rates? Interest free, that's why. Do you think you could have paid off the note with 21 percent interest within a year?
No credit history then. My mother was doing me a nice favor. She was rather well-to-do anyway. My father had died in an automobile accident 3 years earlier and she got a huge 1/2 million-dollar wrongful-death lawsuit settlement for the drunken punk that crossed the line and hit dad head on. The punk only suffered a couple scratches. If I had been otherwise approved by a bank, I could have easily handled the payments on the cheap new bike. 21 % is not much on a $1K dollar note. My dad was working civil service for the navy then and mommy got a federal monthly annuity check for life as the surviving widow. Government jobs paid. My grandfather was a union hard hat and it paid too.
 
Last edited:

TedKennedy

Sharpshooter
Supporter
Joined
Oct 9, 2012
Messages
7,132
Reaction score
2,145
Location
Tulsa
To the OP, yes - it takes more to buy the same level of living standards than it did then. Go back a little farther and see what the dollar was in 1970 versus today.

Another interesting data point is the executive pay versus hourly worker pay.

Pat Buchanan has written much on this topic, as have many others. It's much harder for an entry-level worker to attain home, car, decent standard of living than it used to be. On the other hand, executives are paid many times over what they used to be.

These are the result of many things, but offshore manufacturing tops the list. If you want a workforce that has to compete with 3rd world countries, fine. But get ready to have a 3rd world populace.
 

AlongCameJones

Sharpshooter
Joined
Jun 8, 2021
Messages
127
Reaction score
75
Location
Lawton, Ok
Ted Kennedy I believe you so much. My 1935-born father had merely a high school education and 4 years navy enlisted experience as an electrician's mate and did well to support us working as a civil service electrician for the department the of the navy. There were two children: my older brother and I. We bought a brand-new family 1975 Toyota Corolla wagon for $5,300 OTD. We lived in now-opulent SF Bay Area, California. We had a 12-year-old 2-car-garage suburban house in a middle-class neighborhood: Mayberry, if you will. My 1908-born HS-educated-only grandfather worked union operating engineers Local 3 until he retired in 1973. He and my grandmother owned a nice house, a big Mercury automobile, a big Ford Galaxie and two rental properties to boot in now opulent northern California. They never drew a dime of social security until they both passed away in 1980.

Nowadays, it seems, you have to have bachelors and/or masters degree-level employment to own such stuff. America was a great nation with a heavy manufacturing and traditional industrial/building trades base. The Democrats largely let everybody in and his dog from abroad.
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom