NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Time Is Worth More Today

June 28, 1998

"The real cost of living isn't measured in dollars and cents but in hours and minutes we must work to live," say Dallas Federal Reserve economists W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm. By this yardstick, they contend, living has become a lot easier.

Using the average wage for production and nonsupervisory workers in manufacturing, which they calculate as $13.18 an hour for 1997, it takes less time for workers to earn enough to buy both the basic goods and services and consumer goods that make life more enjoyable. For example,

  • A three-pound chicken cost $3.15 in 1997 -- triple its price in 1919 -- but it took the average worker just 15 minutes to earn that chicken, compared with 158 minutes in 1919.
  • A Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar sold for five cents in 1900 and cost the average worker 19.9 minutes of work, whereas in 1997 a similar size bar cost 45 cents, but took only two minutes of earnings to purchase.
  • In 1971 the average worker had to toil 174 hours to earn enough money for a 25-inch color television; but in 1997 a much more reliable TV cost just 23 hours on the job.

Technology, education and machinery have made workers far more productive than their counterparts of 20, 50 or 100 years ago, say Cox and Alm. They also point out that this bounty of the modern economy depends on the wide differences in living standards between rich and poor. "Without society's wealthy, fewer new goods and services would find their way to rest of us," they write. Thus "...unequal income distribution is instrumental in driving society forward."

Source: Peter Passsell, "Every Second Counts Even More," New York Times, June 28, 1998.


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