Saturday, February 7, 2015

What food cost in 1913

Food costs are a big deal for most of the world; we're in a place where we spend less on our food than most every other country in the world as a percentage of our income, which is actually pretty nice.  Means you have more money for other stuff, but how we got there bothers me sometimes.  

The BLS has tracked food prices since 1913, and it's interesting to go through what they track and see how the prices change.    

1 cent in 1913 is worth $.24 cents in 2013 and so I've converted all prices to 2013 dollars.  if you'd like to see the original 1913 prices, you'll find them here.   The difference between 2013 and 2015 collars is about 4% (average 2% inflation * 2 years) 

In no particular order:  

Bread in 1913 cost $1.34/loaf.  In 2013 a loaf will cost you $1.42.  So bread is actually more expensive now than then -- despite our huge investment in automated everything to do with wheat harvests.  that's surprising

Flour in 1913 was $0.79/.  In 2013,  it's $0.52 - flour is cheaper now, but bread is more expensive.  Interesting.  

Cheese was $5.33 in 1913 -- now it's $5.83  - a little more expensive, but within 10% of the 1913 price.  

Butter was $9.82 in 1913, and is now about 1/3rd the price, at $3.501 -- that's a huge decrease!

Coffee was $7.18 in 1913, and is $5.90 today; 20% off.  this is surprising because I don't think that coffee harvests are mechanized nearly to the extent that other crops are.  Low labor costs?

Potatoes at in 1913 were $0.38/lb - they're closing in a double now.  $0.63

Rice at $2.06/lb in 1913 compares to rice at $0.71 now... about 1/3rd the price.  

Sirloin steak at $5.7 actually compares pretty well to current prices.  Identical price

Pork chops at 4.48 are much more expensive than modern, at $3.46

bacon was more expensive then, at $6.09 vs $4.40 now

Eggs are a bargain in the modern age.  1913 at $8.95/dozen then vs $1.93 today.  

Sugar  is $1.39/lb in 1913 and .68 cents a pound now.  


Bill Gauch said...

One of the issues with conversion of prices into 2013 dollars is that the biggest contributor towards inflation for a long, long time was food. To do a proper comparison, you would need to create a cost vs. household income comparison. The biggest expense these days is the cost of a house which is between 1/3 and 1/2 of household income. And people who exceed the 1/2 household income (not uncommon) are in a precarious economic position. If income or house values drop, they can be bankrupt almost overnight. Back to food, the artificial price controls (subsidies) contribute significantly to keeping costs low. If you remove all subsidy from food, I would bet you would find a few interesting things. First, food and, consequently, inflation would go through the roof. Second, the average costs of a typical 1913 meal in 2013 dollars would likely be nearly equal to current 2013 prices. Which brings up another difference between 1913 and 2013. The typical meal has changed beyond recognition. In 1913, mass produced products didn't exist and food was food. In 2013, food for most people is some conglomeration of things that may, at one time, have been food. Most of the food in my house is actual food, and I can tell you that it is way, way more expensive to eat now compared to nearly 20 years ago when I first started paying for my own food. Eggs and dairy are about the only things that haven't really changed price. said...

Another good article Bruce! I have to agree wholeheartedly with Bill. As I know Flour, that's what I'll speak to. Flour in 1913 was a different animal. Milled in small, local mills, whole, wholesome, devoid of pesticides and fungicides and preservatives and bleach. I can tell you that today, you won't buy my flour for $.52/lb. A comparison of true apples to apples would bring to light a huge increase in food prices between now and then...and that is perhaps what this food is actually now worth.

Anyway, a great blog article makes us think and rethink issues. Thanks!