By Tom Morrow
When I graduated from college in 1968, I figured if I could just make $10,000 a year, I’d consider myself successful.
It wasn’t until 1971 I surpassed that figure. Today, the Federal poverty figure far exceeds that amount.
This fact occurred to me as I sat watching one of those fabulous Agatha Christie mysteries on TV. Hercule Poirot was sleuthing his way to catch the bad guy circa 1935, and the sum of 500 pounds was mentioned as an annual salary in one of the episodes. My wife asked how much that was, so I did a little research.
In 1935, a British pound sterling would have been worth between $3 and $4 U.S., give or take a few cents. So, 500 pounds would have been between $1,500 and $2,000. That, indeed, would have been a good income during the Great Depression.
During the late ’40s and throughout the ’50s, “good money” on the Iowa farm-labor market was anywhere from $1 to $1.50 an hour. Workers in small towns like the one where I grew up brought home an average of $60 to $90 a week. You were considered “well paid” if you made $100 a week, which very few farm workers did at that time.
For a summer job, I made $1.50 an hour loading 80-pound bales of hay, six-layers high on a wagon that followed the baler. I can still feel that wire cutting into my fingers. It convinced me that school was a good thing.
I recall around the mid-50s, one of the Kansas City television stations went off the air because technicians went on strike, demanding a $100 weekly salary. My dad, who was a merchant, laughed, saying he’d be lucky to bring home $75 a week, and reckoned the TV techs were just whining. But, city life was far more expensive than living in the country — probably by about $25 a week.
In those days, a loaf of bread was 15 cents; a pound of hamburger, 50 cents; a quart of milk, 20 to 25 cents. In 1960, a new top-of-the line Buick or Chrysler sold between $2,900 and $3,400.
I bought my first house in 1963 for $11,000, paying $200 down, leaving $89 a month payments. I laid awake at night worrying whether I could keep up with the payments on my $430 a month salary as a policeman.
A few months earlier, I had been making only $220 a month as a grocery clerk. When I was hired by the Phoenix Police Department, I didn’t know what I was going to do with all that extra money — that is, until I bought that new home.
As you sit and read these figures, comparing them with your own, we can chuckle about our worry in making ends meet.
Now, get back to the real world and worry about how we’re going to pay all of bills that come in the mail today.