With some help from the Student Entrepreneur Society at the University of Michigan-Flint (especially Jennifer Moore), and an old 1950 Sears catalog purchased from Ebay, we were able to compare the costs of 16 typical household items in 1950 to the costs of those same items today, measured in the cost of our time to purchase those household items. Using the average hourly manufacturing wage of $1.30 in 1950 and $18.01 today, the hours of work to purchase those 16 household items in both 1950 and 2009 are displayed above (click to enlarge). In all cases, we tried to match the size and quality of the items as closely as possible in both years.
Bottom Line: In 1950, it would have taken almost 8 months of full-time work at the average manufacturing wage to earn the $1,650 needed to purchase the 16 items above at the retail prices in 1950 (or 31.7 weeks, 158.4 days, or 1,267 hours). Today, it would take only 1.6 months of work at the current average hourly wage of $18.01 to earn the $4,580 necessary to purchase those same items at today's retail prices (or 6.4 weeks, 31.8 days or 254.5 hours).
To what do we owe this significant 80% reduction in the time cost of household goods over time? It's all part of the miracle of the market economy.