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1940 Census


Karl-G
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The 1940 census reports which were posted on-line last week are very interesting. I have found my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Property values have changed enormously. Apartments which were renting for $45 a month in 1940 are now renting for $3000.

 

Does anyone have one of those lists which shows prices for (e.g.) a loaf of bread, a half gallon of milk, a daily newspaper, a first class stamp, a month's service of telephone, a new car, etc. in 1940?

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Cost of Living in 1940

 

I found a few.

 

Car: $800

Gasoline: 18 cents/gal

House: $6,550

Bread: 8 cents/loaf

Milk: 34 cents/gal

Postage Stamp: 3 cents

Stock Market: 131

Average Annual Salary: $1,900

Minimum Wage: 30 cents per hour

 

I wonder about the average cost of a house, however. When I looked up on the census for my parents, their very substantial two story house (with a six room apartment on each floor, full basement, and garage) in Chicago was valued at $4500, and other similar houses in the neighborhood which I looked at were all in the range of $4500-$5000.

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Interesting stats. Thank you for posting them. Based on the differential between 1940 and 2012 minimum wage/average salary, that 18 cent gallon of gasoline would cost $4.35 (if using minimum wage) or $3.95 (if using average salary). The 34 cent gallon of milk would be either $8.22 (minimum wage) or $7.46 (average salary).

 

 

 

 

 

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I found this thread and the responses to be interesting indeed. While I perused the statements, my mind floated to 1962 when I purchased a four story house [full basement and attic and two additional floors] in Kansas City, Missouri for my parents to the tune of $10,000. When I bought my four door, convertible Bonneville Pontiac in 1964, I paid a mere $2500.

 

My oh my, the price variation based on eras has truly fluctuated!!!! It's makes for a meaningful read yet being slightly sad in terms of this century.

 

Sorry that I digressed two decades.

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I haven't checked the 1940 census report yet, but wanted to comment on some of the posts here. Yes, it is fascinating to see the prices of things in 1940, but what were average salaries?? Does anyone have a list of what some professionals, blue-collar workers, and others were earning??

I ask because when I bought my first car, a 1965 Chevrolet SS, I think the total was less than $3000, but my salary as a first year teacher was around $4000.--and I paid a mere $75 a month rent. gas was approximately .25 cents a gallon and cigarettes, which I sadly smoked then were around .30 or .35 cents a packet.

When you compare some 2012 costs---gas and cigarettes for example the increases are fantastic, but then again so are the starting salaries of teachers. And in 1940 I suspect the number of millionaires in the USA was not a high number. Now? You have to be a billionaire to make it on any kind of "rich" list, or at least over $500 million.

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In 1943, my parents paid $3500 for a large two story three bedroom (+ second floor sleeping porch), one bath house with a large yard, in a suburb of New York. They were still paying the mortgage off when they sold it in 1969 for $25,000 (approximately what I paid for my current Toyota).

 

As soon as the census details were available, I checked our block to see who had lived in our house in 1940 (a middle-aged couple and their two grown children), and also to see the information about many of my childhood neighbors, who were already there when we moved in.

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From my own memory I can recall in the 1950's that gas sold for low 20's but during a "gas war" I once saw 9 cents for one day. That would have been late 1950's. Cars were still under $1,000 for some. Ground beef was 3 pounds for $1 during most "sales" (almost every week). $500 a month salary was pretty good (for Memphis). My parents bought a 2 bedroom, 1 bath + garage house for $2,000 in 1940. They added one bedroom and a den in the early 1950's and it sold for $70,000 in 1985 when my mother "retired". Central air-conditioning was also added in the 1950's. Hard to think of before A/C in the South but I survived it. :)

 

Best regards,

KMEM

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I haven't checked the 1940 census report yet, but wanted to comment on some of the posts here. Yes, it is fascinating to see the prices of things in 1940, but what were average salaries?? Does anyone have a list of what some professionals, blue-collar workers, and others were earning??

I ask because when I bought my first car, a 1965 Chevrolet SS, I think the total was less than $3000, but my salary as a first year teacher was around $4000.--and I paid a mere $75 a month rent. gas was approximately .25 cents a gallon and cigarettes, which I sadly smoked then were around .30 or .35 cents a packet.

When you compare some 2012 costs---gas and cigarettes for example the increases are fantastic, but then again so are the starting salaries of teachers. And in 1940 I suspect the number of millionaires in the USA was not a high number. Now? You have to be a billionaire to make it on any kind of "rich" list, or at least over $500 million.

 

I saw on the news that an average yearly salary in 1940 was $962.00.

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I haven't had the pleasure yet of looking at the 1940 census, but you might be amused to couple it with the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator

 

http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

 

You can go back and forth for comparable prices from 1913 to the present.

 

 

As for pre-war-pre airconditioning, I remember my mother and our neighbors had solutions and strategies. Big awnings to keep the sun off, ceiling fans and window fans, opening up all of the windows about 9PM and closing them all at about 7AM to keep in cool night air. Pulling the window shades and drawing the draperies. A few had big house fans in the attic that pushed out the hot attic air and drew fresh air into the house.

When all else failed, you went to the airconditioned movies.

 

 

But, this was in New England. The modern South could not have happened without A/C.

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We did the same in Memphis but "attic fans" were not sufficient to deal with the heat that a Memphis summer night might generate. I remember sitting in the window sill until 3AM several nights before it got "cool enough" to sleep. When the low for the night is 80 or above, it is "hot". And, with humidity well above 50%, it could be unbearable. However, I do not notice any "permanent scars" upon my body or even my mind. :) Therefore I think these experiences were merely part of "growing up" and nothing more. :)

 

Best regards,

KMEM

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We did the same in Memphis but "attic fans" were not sufficient to deal with the heat that a Memphis summer night might generate. I remember sitting in the window sill until 3AM several nights before it got "cool enough" to sleep. When the low for the night is 80 or above, it is "hot". And, with humidity well above 50%, it could be unbearable. However, I do not notice any "permanent scars" upon my body or even my mind. :) Therefore I think these experiences were merely part of "growing up" and nothing more. :)

 

Best regards,

KMEM

I keep my a/c set at 80, and I find that perfectly comfortable at night. Of course, here in the desert, there is almost no humidity in summer, so it doesn't feel quite the same as 80 does in Memphis. When I was growing up in the New York suburbs, we had only an attic fan, and I remember many summer nights when it was hard to sleep.

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Incomes

 

I have been looking through the 1940 census tract for the middle-class neighborhood where I grew up, and the income-to-housing-cost ratio is interesting. One of our neighbors is listed as a bakery salesman, and he made $2300/yr. My 4th grade teacher made $2100/yr. Another neighbor who is listed as a chemical engineer made the lordly sum of $4800/yr. Considering that my parents bought our house in 1943 for $3500, that meant that a decent house could be bought for less than two years gross income for most of my neighbors. A house in the L.A. suburbs in the first decade of this century cost at least ten times an elementary school teacher's salary, which shows the kind of economic distortion created by the real estate "bubble."

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Salaries in 1940

 

You're right; looking at the salaries is particularly interesting. It is Column 32 of the census.

 

In my parents' neighborhood in Chicago:

 

A carpenter earned $1936 for 52 wks of work, or $37 / week

 

A woman clerk in a department store earned $1000

 

A woman clerk in a law office earned $1020 for 52 wks, or $19.60 / wk

 

A female stenographer earned $950 for 52 wks, or $18.27 / wk

 

A truck driver earned $900 for $52 wks of work

 

The highest earning person in several pages of census for this neighborhood that I looked at was a postal clerk (male) who earned $2400 for 52 wks.

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Postal clerks continue to earn "outsize" salaries which is one of the reasons the USPS is having so much difficulty. When most of us were growing up, federal government jobs were taken for "security and benefits, not salary", now they have superior salaries, superior benefits and unbelievable retirement programs. How can we afford this largesse? Answer: We cannot.

 

Best regards,

KMEM

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