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Cataloging Our Progress: Basic Lawn Care
Posted By Don Boudreaux On December 18, 2012 @ 12:28 pm In Growth,Standard of Living | Comments Disabled
Using my Sears Fall/Winter 1956 catalog , I searched for the lowest-priced basic lawn-care items available at Sears in 1956, constrained only by the requirement that the ‘big’ items – lawn mower and lawn edger – be gasoline- or electric-powered rather than fully manual. From page 1045 through page 1051 of that catalog I found what I searched for. The prices given are 1956 prices for the lowest-priced such item that Sears then sold through its catalog.
- gasoline-powered rotary, manual-push lawn mower (1.5 hp; 16″ cutting width): $46.00
- electric-powered, manual-push lawn edger (6″ blade, 1/8hp): $16.50
- manual-push two-wheel seed/fertilizer spreader (16″ width): $6.89
- garden hose (25′; 7/16″ diameter): $2.29
- on-ground revolving lawn sprinkler (two arms): $1.55
- lawn rake: $0.89
- pruning shears: $0.89
- garden-hose nozzle: $0.46
These items in 1956 totaled to $75.47
How many hours did an ordinary American worker have to work in 1956 to purchase these basic, Sears-lowest-priced lawn-care items?
Remember from this November 26, 2012 post , I use the 1956 average hourly manufacturing earnings of production workers, as reported in Table 1 here , as the figure for the hourly earnings of the ‘ordinary’ American worker. That hourly wage in 1956 was $1.89.
A worker earning that nominal wage in 1956 would, therefore, have had to work 40 hours – a full week – to buy all of these items.
How many hours does an ordinary American worker have to work today to purchase similar items to care for his or her lawn? I went this morning to Sears.com to begin my search; each prices below is a 2012 price for Sears’s lowest-priced offering of each item:
- electric-powered, manual-push lawn edger * (9″ blade; 29cc): $189.99
- manual-push two-wheel seed/fertilizer spreader **: $35.99
- garden hose (50′; 5/8″ diameter) : $10.99
- on-ground revolving lawn sprinkler (three arms) : $10.99
- lawn rake : $19.99
- pruning shears : $9.99
- lawn-hose nozzle : $5.49
These items today total to $454.42
Today’s ordinary, full-time nonsupervisory American worker in the private sector, earning (as he or she does) $19.84 per hour , must work only 23 hours to buy these basic lawn-care items. That’s 43 percent less work time today than was necessary in 1956 buy the same bundle of basic lawn-care items. (The quality of today’s items seems generally to be superior to those of 1956 – a fact that I’ll ignore here beyond merely mentioning it.)
On an individual basis:
- lawn mower: one cost 24.3 hours of work by the ‘ordinary’ American worker in 1956; a similar mower today costs a similar worker today 8.6 hours
- upright power dedicated lawn edger:* one cost the 1956 worker 8.7 hours of work; the lowest-priced power edger today cost a similar worker 9.6 hours
- push spreader: one cost the 1956 worker 3.6 hours of work; the lowest-priced push spreader today cost a similar worker 1.8 hours
- hose: one cost the 1956 worker 1.2 hours of work; the lowest-priced hose today (although wider and twice as long as the 1956 hose) cost a similar worker 33 minutes
- sprinkler: one cost the 1956 worker 49 minutes of work; the lowest-priced on-ground rotating sprinkler today cost a similar worker 33 minutes
- lawn rake: one cost the 1956 worker 28 minutes of work; the lowest-priced lawn rake today cost a similar worker 1 hour
- pruning shears: one cost the 1956 worker 28 minutes of work; the lowest-priced pruning shears today cost a similar worker 30 minutes
- lawn-hose nozzle: one cost the 1956 worker 15 minutes of work; the lowest-priced nozzle today cost a similar worker 17 minutes
The labor-time cost of a rake, pruning shears, and a nozzle all increased over the past 57 years. So, too, did this cost of a dedicated power lawn trimmer (but here subject to this important caveat*). The work-time cost of all other items fell, so much so that the total work-time cost today (23 hours) is significantly less than it was in 1956 (40 hours).
That’s my excursion for the day into lawn economics.
* Unlike in 1956, today a wide assortment of inexpensive handheld power “line” trimmers are available that do double duty as lawn edgers. (When my teenage son mows the lawn he uses, to very good effect, a trimmer to edge the lawn.) Sears.com sells these line trimmers for as low as $19.88 . Nevertheless, I use in my calculations above the more pricey Sears.com’s lowest-priced upright dedicated power lawn edger.
** I cannot find the dimensions of this spreader. I see only that it holds up to 5,000 square feet of seed or fertilizer to spread. This spreader looks to be about the same size, cubic-inch wise, as the 1956 model that I use above, although I cannot be sure. Perhaps it’s smaller; perhaps it’s larger.
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URLs in this post:
 Using my Sears Fall/Winter 1956 catalog: http://cafehayek.com/2012/11/the-future-back-to-the-past.html
 Table 1 here: http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1237&context=key_workplace&sei-redir=1&referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Furl%3Fsa%3Dt%26rct%3Dj%26q%3D%2522average%2520hourly%2520earnings%2522%2520private%2520nonsupervisory%25201956%26source%3Dweb%26cd%3D5%26ved%3D0CEEQFjAE%26url%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fdigitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu%252Fcgi%252Fviewcontent.cgi%253Farticle%253D1237%2526context%253Dkey_workplace%26ei%3Dzt-zULGHLs6qqAHql4CgDA%26usg%3DAFQjCNGDTSbtPqdSSNWh13QfvReOv5gsHA%26sig2%3DUpIQLmU5roRYh8lDN8rNHQ#search=%22average%20hourly%20earnings%20private%20nonsupervisory%201956%22
 gasoline-powered rotary, manual-push lawn mower (140cc; 21″ cutting width): http://www.sears.com/craftsman-140cc-low-wheel-side-discharge-push-mower/p-07137000000P?prdNo=1&blockNo=1&blockType=G1
 Horse-power ratings are no longer always given for lawn mowers: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021501732.html
 electric-powered, manual-push lawn edger: http://www.sears.com/craftsman-29cc-wheeled-edger-w-speed-start-trade/p-07177380000P?prdNo=7&blockNo=57&blockType=G57
 manual-push two-wheel seed/fertilizer spreader: http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_SPM3992156901P?sid=IDx20110310x00001i&srccode=cii_184425893&cpncode=32-205904501-2#desc
 garden hose (50′; 5/8″ diameter): http://www.sears.com/garden-elite-5-8-in-x-50-ft-pvc/p-07169325000P?prdNo=17&blockNo=17&blockType=G17
 on-ground revolving lawn sprinkler (three arms): http://www.sears.com/kinex-three-arm-rotary-sprinkler/p-07123581000P?prdNo=2&blockNo=2&blockType=G2
 lawn rake: http://www.sears.com/ames-jackson-kodiak-spring-brace-rake-22-tine/p-07194835000P?prdNo=6&blockNo=6&blockType=G6
 pruning shears: http://www.sears.com/search=pruning%20shears?vName=Lawn+%26+Garden&cName=Outdoor+Tools+%26+Supplies&sLevel=1&keywordSearch=false&sortOption=PRICE_LOW_TO_HIGH&catalogId=12605&viewItems=25&storeId=10153&filter=storeOrigin%7CSears
 lawn-hose nozzle: http://www.sears.com/gardenlife-twist-spray-nozzle/p-07160255000P?prdNo=15&blockNo=15&blockType=G15
 as he or she does) $19.84 per hour: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t24.htm
 Sears.com sells these line trimmers for as low as $19.88: http://www.sears.com/weedeater-3.6-amp-11inch-electric-line-trimmer/p-07174123000P?prdNo=1&blockNo=1&blockType=G1
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