Every one in a while an American of long memory defies the current down-in-the- mouthers and declares, "We never had it so good!" That this is sadly not true of some Americans should not blind anyone to a general standard of living that has been steadily rising, according to White House figures, even when it has reportedly been in decline. Last year, for example, as measured by real per capita personal consumption, the standard of living kept going up at 1. 75 percent, higher than the annual 1.2 percent of the 1950s, which so many people look back on as easy street. The annual rate of increase from 1970 to 1979 was 2.82 percent.
There are reasons for the per capita rises, says National Economic Research Associates of New York. They include the growing share of the population in the labor force and the decline in the birthrate. Thus both production and consumption per person tend to go up, though there may be contrary signs in, say , productivity and income estimates. So the figures may not lie, but they represent a national profile different from what it used to be.
At any rate, we question the use of constantly rising personal consumption as a measure of genuine standard of living. It provides perspective on economic lamentations. But it does not really tell individual Americans whether they have never had it so good. this is something they can only judge for themselves , looking at the quality as well as quantity represented by their standards of living.