Historical Prices – Research Tip

by Steve Laube

I made $1.80 an hour stuffing envelopes for my first job with a paycheck. I thought I was rich. For a teenager in those days I was because in today’s money I would have been making nearly $10 per hour!

When writing a novel or referring to days gone by it is helpful to put things in perspective by doing a little research. First find out what that item cost in that year. I did a quick search for “gas prices in 1962” and found the answer in seconds. Then go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for a special calculator. Here is the address: http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl. This site calculates the average Consumer Price Index for a given calendar year using the rate of inflation and other economic factors and enables you to compare wages, prices, and other various things. This index value has been calculated every year since 1913.

A couple examples:

The “dime novel” of 1915 would cost $2.26 today. (Has the 99ยข ebook become today’s “dime novel?”)

In 1962 the average home cost $15,000 – in today’s money – $114,937.
In 1962 the average salary was $6,000 – in today’s money – $46,000.
In 1962 the price of gas was 31ยข per gallon – in today’s money – $2.38.

Of course not everything increased. My first computer cost $3,000 in 1992 ($4,948 in today’s money). Today you can buy a nice one for under a thousand dollars.

Have fun playing with the numbers!

Your Turn:

What was your hourly wage for your first job with a paycheck? (dare to tell us when?)

17 Responses to Historical Prices – Research Tip

  1. Avatar
    Tessa October 29, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    I made $6.50/hr when I started as an assistant at a vet’s office in high school. The year was 2004.

    I realize that’s not too bad, but it feels like light years away to me!

  2. Avatar
    Diana Harkness October 29, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    I made $.25 per program sold when I had my first “real” job selling programs at the Ohio State Fair. The following year I was old enough to get a job paying minimum wage. What did I spend my first earnings on? A suit (skirt and vest–I couldn’t afford the jacket) purchased at a major clothing sale at the height of the season. No more waiting until the end of the season to buy clothes at half price. I was rich. Now I’m wise.

  3. Avatar
    Leigh DeLozier October 29, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    Wow, Tessa, I would’ve loved $6.50/hr! My first paying job in high school was for the local Hallmark shop. I earned a whopping $3.10/hr … back in 1984. The weekend babysitting paid a lot better. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Avatar
    Sally Bradley October 29, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    I remember a Little House episode where Pa was pricing a new stove. The cost was $7.00, and he winced and moved on. As a kid, that really made an impact on me. Probably my first money lesson. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Avatar
    Laurie Alice Eakes October 29, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    In 1990, I got my first full-time job making $15,000.00 a year, and I bought a house with it. True, it was Davenport, Iowa, where the cost of living was pretty low, but still, I had a lovely little house and even went away on a couple of vacations a year. I also managed to afford the office clothes my boss required we wear, and I had a computer, an IBM XT with a whole 20 meg. hard drive.

  6. Avatar
    Judith Robl October 29, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    My first real job was as a summer “wheat agent” for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. It was the late 50s and I made a huge $1.475 per hour. Yes, that’s a dollar and forty-seven and a half cents.

    When I was ready to get another job, I was “over qualified” because I’d been paid too much. A good paying non-railroad job was about 85-cents an hour. I’d have been glad for the 47-cents.

    A wheat agent was the person who manned a defunct railroad depot between June 15 and August 15 so the elevators in central Kansas could move grain with a local agent. The depot was closed ten months out of the year. Now we no longer even have tracks in most of those places.

  7. Avatar
    Sandra Orchard October 29, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    My first job was stuffing shavings & labels in plastic bags for a pet supply company and I made a whopping $2/hour, great money for a public school-aged kid in the 70s. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Avatar
    Robin Patchen October 29, 2012 at 6:00 am #

    For my first job, I cleaned tables and bathrooms at what was at that time the largest Burger King in the world (in Londonderry, NH, oddly enough). I couldn’t work behind the counter because I was only 15, and I made $3.35 per hour, which was minimum wage in 1984.

    After that job, if I knew nothing else, I was convinced the fast food biz was not for me.

  9. Avatar
    Karen Whiting October 29, 2012 at 6:35 am #

    My parents had a house built on land they owned in 1958 and the mortgage was 15,000 (a 3BR cape cod-average sort of house/no garage. no extras).

  10. Avatar
    Susan Stitch October 29, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    VERY helpful post! My first job with a paycheck was as a daycamp counselor — $150/week for dealing with ‘adorable’ children all day long in the hot sun in 1976. That worked out to be about $3.75 per hour. Lots better than babysitting for $.75 per hour back then!

  11. Avatar
    Susan Basham October 29, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    I worked at the local Goodwill. I “dressed” their windows with clothing and items with the verve of a Fifth Avenue designer! I was 15-1/2. I made a little over $2.00 an hour. (Gosh, am I THAT OLD?) It was a fun job, with nice folks. I’ll never forget it.

  12. Avatar
    Georgiana Daniels October 29, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    $6 an hour as an intern and I thought that was a mega big deal. Funny how some things skyrocket and others level off. Wish gas would go down!

  13. Avatar
    Dianne Price October 29, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    First job? Walking hots (horses that had just been raced) at Portland Meadows race track. Wage? The joy of being around horses and getting a leg-up (riding) once in a while myself. I also babysat for 50 cents an hour. Years? 1946-48

  14. Avatar
    Meghan Carver October 29, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    After four years of a paper route, I started at Baskin Robbins at age 15 for the hourly wage of $2.85. It was below the minimum wage of $3.35 but the owner could get away with that because I wasn’t 16 yet. That was 1985. But there were two bonuses, one good and one not so good — all the ice cream I could eat when there weren’t any customers in the store and that *stylish* pink-orange-brown striped dress that was the standard uniform.

  15. Avatar
    Jeanne October 29, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    How fun to read everyone’s first job experience and how much has changed. ๐Ÿ™‚ My first job was as a baby sitter. I charged $0.50/hour for one child and $0.75/hour for two. I thought I was being quite reasonable. ๐Ÿ™‚ My first official job was working at a car wash. I was fourteen, I think, and I earned somewhere around $3.00/hour. I was underage, and the job did’t last long. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the links, Steve.

  16. Avatar
    Peter DeHaan October 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Aside from lawn work and farm labor, my first job paid $2.50 an hour. That was in 1976.

    A couple years later my school placed me into my first full time job. The placement agent told me it paid $7.00 an hour, but her notes were faulty.

    I took the job without verifying the compensation; they actually paid $700 a month (almost half what I was expecting).

  17. Avatar
    patti shene October 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    My first real employment was as an RN after graduated from nursing school in 1972. My annual salary was $10,601. I thought I was on top of the world.

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