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What's a gallon of gas worth? Depends on When   (May 2005)

Have you ever wondered if your pay is keeping up with inflation, or whether a movie ticket was actually cheaper "back in the day"? It's rather eye-opening to find out, and here's how. Go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics home page and then click on the "inflation calculator" link in the upper left, under the heading "Inflation and Consumer Spending."

Notice how closely the unemployment rate (the solid line) tracks inflation (the dotted line), revealing how devastating inflation is to the economy. Also note how the extremes just happen to coincide with my graduating from college (1975) and starting a business (Aug. 1981).

Minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60/hour (I remember that well, of course, and also that Dole Pineapple paid a nickel more for the swing and night shifts--whoopie. Note that was for picking pineapple in the tropic heat of the afternoon, not sitting in a cubicle hiding your Solitaire game from your supervisor.). Enter the date and amount into the calculator and voila, you'd have to earn $8.02 today to equal the buying power of $1.60 in 1970. I note that this is considerably more than the current minimum wage, meaning that today's entry workers are making less than we did 35 years ago.

That's troubling, to say the least.

It's amusing to plug in other prices you remember. I recall that during the great Oil Crisis of 1973-74, I was paying between 65 and 75 cents per gallon, which equates to $2.85 to $3.29 in today's dollars. So gasoline is cheaper today--at least for today. (For more on this, see the National Resources Defense Council's page on oil dependence and conservation.)

Say you paid $500 rent for an apartment in 1982. Would you guess that it would cost $1,000 in today's currency? yes, a clean double since '82. Check to see if your wage has also doubled. For a free-lance writer, the exercise is futile, of course; the fees never seem to rise. They seem to actually be dropping. Note to new writers: don't do it for the money. Do it for the glory of truth and the byline.

The BLS site has a raft of other interesting statistics as well. If not hours of fun, at least 22 minutes' worth--and there's no commercials.

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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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