With inflation in the news, it is becoming a bit more difficult to calculate the current buying power of a dollar when compared to the past. (The Phoenix area where we live has experienced 13% inflation in the past year.)
But this isn’t a post about inflation. Instead, it is a method to help you with your research.
I made $1.80 an hour stuffing envelopes for my first job with a paycheck. I thought I was rich. In today’s money, I would have been making $12.78 per hour. (What is the minimum wage in your area today?) How do I know? Keep reading.
When writing a novel or referring to days gone by in a nonfiction book or article, 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: data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl. This site calculates the average Consumer Price Index for a given calendar month and year, using the rate of inflation and other economic factors, and enables you to compare wages, prices, and other things. This index value has been calculated every year since 1913.
A couple of examples:
The “dime novel” of 1915 would cost $2.93 today. (Has the 99¢ ebook become today’s “dime novel”?)
In 1962 the average home cost $15,000; in today’s money, $147,104.
In 1962 the average salary was $6,000; in today’s money, $58,800.
In 1962 the price of gas was 31¢ per gallon; in today’s money, $3.04.
Of course, not everything increased. My first computer cost $3,000 in 1992 ($9,150 in today’s money). Today you can buy a nice one for well under a thousand dollars.
Have fun playing with the numbers!
What was your hourly wage for your first job with a paycheck? (Dare to tell us when?)