Soaring food, energy, and housing costs. Heat waves and wildfires. Computer chip shortages. It’s hard not to take a current problem and project it forward. But history can help us reframe events. Journalist Timothy B. Lee recently posed this question: “Have average Americans really suffered from falling living standards over the last 30 or 40 years?”
His answer – in 24 charts in Full Stack Economics – is a paean to prosperity as well as a persuasive rebuke to pessimism and gauzy nostalgia.
Here are a few highlights:
Americans eat lots more fresh fruits and veggies (thanks to more choice and less cost). “Stores today stock about eight times as many blueberries, six times as many mangoes. ... Strawberry and cherry availability has more than doubled [in the past 30 years],” Mr. Lee reports.
At the same time, Americans spend less on food and clothing. In 1960, the average U.S. household spent 28% of its income on food and clothing. Today, it’s 11%. That in turn leaves more money for other items – such as dishwashers (now in 73% of homes).
U.S. homeownership (but not renting) is more affordable. Yes, housing prices have skyrocketed. But Mr. Lee calculates that the monthly mortgage payment on a median-priced home ($429,000) is much lower today (thanks to lower interest rates) than in 1990.
Fathers spend more than twice as much time with their children than in 1985. Cars are safer. The percentage of women with four-year college degrees has nearly quadrupled.
The next time you’re pining for the “good ol’ days,” check out Mr. Lee’s charts for a dose of reality – and perhaps a sense of gratitude.