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Our ambitions turned from bread and shirts to ownership and highways."I want to make one more point from the BLS survey I consulted, "100 Years of U. Take a look at these two graphs (Y-axis is in dollars).They compare the retail price of flour, steak, eggs, and milk to the hourly wage of a typical middle class job (I picked manufacturing) since the turn of the 20th century.But the details of this squeeze elude the color-wheel above. Even higher ed is a necessity for today's middle class. Today, we spend more than half of our money on housing and transportation.We are paying for health care with taxes, borrowing, and compensation that goes to health benefits, rather than wages. Historical context shouldn't cheapen middle class suffering. Our ambitions turned from bread and shirts to ownership and highways.As a result, middle class wages zoom ahead of food prices, and the cost of feeding ourselves falls and falls in real terms.
Here's the big picture in one chart showing the share of family spending per category over the 20th century. We are near the end of the Millennium, but in the "warp and woof of life," we are living closer to the 1600s than the 2000s, as Brad De Long memorably put it. As for the women's rights movement: More than twice as many households report income from children (22%) than wives (9%). At the same time, food has gotten much cheaper compared to wages, and its share of the family budget has declined from 43% to 30%.In 1900, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted three categories as necessities: housing, food, and apparel. We are all subtle victims of the expectations that 100 years of wealth have bought.The Atlantic's Money Report -- a look at the history of U. work and spending -- wraps up this week, sadly, but there are a few cool nuggets I want to share before we're back to our regularly scheduled programming around here. The agriculture sector is a marvel of economic efficiency.(The female labor participation rate is still below 20%.) Factory wages have grown by seven-fold since 1901, and they've nearly tripled since the Great Depression. was the making-stuff capital of the world, and our dominance probably felt indefinite. In the last 50 years, food and apparel's share of family has fallen from 42% to 17% (and remember, we were near 60% in 1900) as we've found cheaper ways to eat and clothe ourselves.Textile manufacturing has never been higher and will never be higher. Apparel manufacturing would grow through the 1970s before collapsing in the last third of the decade. It's become fashionable to consider the 1950s a golden age in American economics. Food production got more efficient, and we offshored the making of clothes to other countries with cheaper labor.