Re: 100 YEARS AGO: How far have we come?

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From: Dave Long (
Date: Wed Mar 01 2000 - 00:19:10 PST

> The average wage in the U.S. was twenty-two cents an hour. The average
> U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
> A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist
> $2500 per year, a veterinarian between $1500 and $4000 per year, and a
> mechanical engineer about $5000 per year.

So if return to skill was as great as at the turn of the century,
engineers would be making $500K per year in 2000 dollars?

(actually, there is a more reasonable interpretation: the salaried and
quasi-professionals have held constant with the 22-fold rise in prices,
but wage earners have managed to gain an additional tripling over that,
actually bettering their lot. It is too bad we were not given
figures for rentiers)

> Eighteen percent of households in the United States had at least one
> full-time servant or domestic.

Orwell's _Road to Wigan Pier_ is now on my to-read list, as it seems
germane to two recent FoRKposts. Apparently the first part consists
of a bit of anthropology of depression-era working-class England,
and the second part is an essay in which Orwell argues that the
middle classes had best overcome any snobbish separation from the
working classes, lest they be eventually subsumed anyway.

<> seems a good
parallel to Orwell's exploration of middle class views of the
working classes. (Adam, best to be a bit wary of the Meadian
Samoan in your fieldwork :-)

<> has an
interesting quote from RtWP which indicates that Orwell's definition
of the middle class was "at least one (really, preferably more than
two) full-time servant(s) or domestic(s)". By this definition, we
can put an upper bound of 18% on the number of middle class US
households in 1900. What about in 2000? Checking the figures from
the Consumer Expenditure Survey for 1997-1998, we find that
"high-income households" (those with incomes of $90+K, <6% of the
population) spend only $1800 on average for "Household Operations".
If we figure that 19 of those households spend nothing on domestic
services, the 20th could afford one full-time helper, so the Orwellian
middle class has shrunk in the US to (well) under .3% from 18%.

Now, I gather when people worry about a "disappearing middle class",
they are not referring to that particular segment of the population.
Is there a generally accepted definition of "middle class"? If we
believe the US to truly be a middle class country, then perhaps taking
the arbitrary middle 60% would do it: households with yearly incomes
between $12K and $64K. (note that this definition also fits with
the current fashion in economic thought that dictates that how much
currency one spends is much more indicative of utility than how one
chooses to spend one's time)

> The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were:
> 1. Pneumonia and influenza
> 2. Tuberculosis
> 3. Diarrhea
> 4. Heart disease
> 5. Stroke

From <>
1. Diseases of the Heart
2. Malignant cancers ...
3. Cerebrovascular diseases [Stroke? -dl]
4. Chronic obstructive pulmonary
   diseases and allied lung conditions
5. Accidental injury ...
6. Pneumonia and influenza

It is reassuring to see that 100 years later, we now have the
dignity of dying of stress, carcinogens, smoking, or while
drunkenly driving instead of expiring via TB or diarrhea. :-)

(and the reasonable interpretation: we've actually done a decent job
of keeping death away from the young. Hurrah!)

> Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg
> yolks for shampoo.

I still haven't done the Sodium Lauryl Sulfate vs. storebought
shampoo test; I suppose now I need to check out borax (which makes a
bitchin' hand cleaner after dealing with greasy Camaros) and egg
yolks (well known for promoting shiny glossy coats) as other
products which may very well be too incredibly cheap to be of any
possible benefit to a consumer. (then again, there's probably a
decent market for egg yolk shampoo at $35 the bottle: organic,
antioxidant, emollient, or otherwise buzzword compliant)


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