Here’s a PowerPoint presentation that I gave as part of a lecture at Cato University. [UPDATED: December 2012. The 1975 Sears-catalog comparisons start at slide #17.] It’s an updated version of these two posts – here and here – on shopping today in a Sears catalog from Fall/Winter 1975.
In this presentation, I calculate how many hours each non-supervisory worker earning the average nominal hourly wage of such workers had to work in 1975 to buy a variety of ordinary goods, and how many hours each non-supervisory worker earning the average nominal hourly wage of such workers must work in 2011 to buy similar (or, really, in almost every case far superior) or comparable goods.
The dollar figure beside each photo from the 1975 Sears catalog is the 1975 price(s) of that product(s) adjusted, using the CPI, into 2011 dollars. (The photos of the various pages of the 1975 Sears catalog, BTW, were taken with the camera in my iPhone. Just FYI.)
Before starting this PowerPoint presentation, I showed this recent clip from Robert Reich – one of many, many instances of people insisting that ordinary Americans are no better off today (at least materially) than they were since just before the age of alleged laissez faire descended upon us circa 1980.
This presentation, of course, does not prove that middle-class Americans are today better off than were middle-class Americans of the 1970s. Other factors must be controlled for and considered and factored in. But this presentation, I fancy, does strongly suggest that the oft-heard claim of middle-class stagnation should bear a much heavier burden of proof than it seems to bear in popular discussions.