You raise an interesting question that can only be answered with some data (speaking to John). However, finding data that accurately trends the standard of living index in America over the last 30 years is difficult. Standard of living can be quite subjective and entails a number of factors including material well-being, health, job security, freedom, gender equality, ect.
As an aside, an interesting study was done this year by an independent, non-profit initiative by Oxfam America, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council provided information on well-being, ranked by state and congressional districts. They took into consideration some of these factors. Interestingly, Connecticut came in #1 in well-being amongst all of the states. Mississippi came in last. What it demonstrates is that there are gaps in standard of living amongst states. More importantly, there are income gaps between the low, middle, and upper classes as well, but what defines these classes is a bit sketchy and varies from source to source.
Finding how these trends follow over a 30 year period is as sketchy. I did find an interesting article, “Trends in the level and distribution of U.S. living standards: 1973-1993? Eastern Economic Journal, Summer 1996 by Burtless, Gary
The author notes that the US economy and standard of living climbed dramatically from World War II to 1973, but the living standards in the decades that followed to 1993 increased to a lesser extent as 1973 marked a turning point in post-war economic history.
According to the author, consumption expenditures per person, adjusted to reflect changes in the price level, climbed 37.3 percent between 1973 and 1993. The Census Bureau’s tabulations conclude that real median family income was essentially the same in both 1973 and 1993. Thus, as measured by one popular indicator of well-being – real consumption per person — living standards improved more than a third according to Burtless. However, it should be noted that increased consumption may only reflect less saving. While real income received by the median family remained unchanged it was noted that the average family size from pre-1973 to post 1973 had decreased.
In 1973, personal consumption expenditures represented 88.5 percent of disposable personal income; in 1993, consumption expenditures were 93.4 percent of disposable personal income. Personal saving fell from 9.0 percent to 4.1 percent of disposable personal income [U.S. Council of Economic Advisers, 1995, 306]. Even though real per capita personal consumption expenditures climbed 37.3 percent between 1973 and 1993, real per capita disposable income rose just 30.2 percent.
One important point that the author makes is that virtually all of the income gains received by U.S. families between 1973 and 1993 were received by families in the top 40 percent of the income distribution, with an overwhelming share received by families in the top one-fifth of the distribution. So like the first study I presented which demonstrated income gaps between states, so too the income gap between the top 40% and the lower 60% seems to have grown over the 20 year period. However, at the same time period, there was a substantial growth in welfare dependency and single parent homes amongst the poor. John, I think we have to take into consideration that while the upper 40% (which includes most of us in Woodstock) succeeded, a large expansion of entitlement programs after the Johnson Administration created a flattening of the upward mobility of the poor. Read the rest of this entry »