Poor, Ordinary Americans

by Don Boudreaux on August 6, 2006

in Myths and Fallacies, Standard of Living

Whether or not Americans are better off
these days is a loaded political question. But one thing’s for sure –
their homes keep getting bigger.

According to the annual American Housing
Survey released this month by the Census Bureau and other reports,
Americans are building bigger, fancier houses and loading them up with
more features and systems than ever.

average new home grew to 2,434 square feet in 2005, according to the
Census Bureau, up 3.6 percent from 2,349 square feet in 2004 and up
46.6 percent from 1,660 square feet in 1973.

Ahluwahlia, of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)says
early stats for 2006 indicate an additional increase to 2,455 square
feet this year.

Really big houses,
3,000 or more square feet, have gone from relatively uncommon – 11
percent of new homes in 1988 – to practically mainstream; 23 percent of
new homes are now that big, according to the Census Bureau.

still like to buy bigger and bigger space," says Gopal Ahluwahlia,
research director of the NAHB, "even though families are smaller."
Ahluwahlia says family size shrunk 20 percent but new houses have
expanded in size by more than 50 percent since 1970.

So begins this report from CNNMoney.com.  (HT to Bob Higgs.)

Of course, almost anything is possible — but the set of things that are also plausible is much, much smaller.  I suppose that it’s possible that the real wages of ordinary Americans have stagnated since the mid-1970s — possible that ordinary Americans continue a thirty-year-long agonizing process of treading water as we watch helplessly as only the super rich enjoy increasing prosperity — while some mysterious force nevertheless enables us to buy and live in increasingly larger and better-equipped homes.

But this prospect is hardly plausible.  Any American alive today who remembers 1973 and who continues to believe that ordinary Americans are no (or only slightly) materially better off today than we were thirty years ago is blind or seriously deceived.


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