James Pethokoukis from the American Enterprise Institute recently wrote a piece comparing life in America in 1915 with life today.
Here are some amazing facts to put the successes of free enterprise in perspective:
- Life expectancy at birth for people born in 1915 was 54, versus 79 today.
- Over half of the 100 million in the US was under 25, versus only a third of our 321 million.
- 87% of births were outside hospitals, versus 1% today.
- The population was 90% white, versus 63% today.
- 13% of the population was foreign-born… which is equal to what it is today! (N.B. it dropped below 5% by 1970.)
- 50% of the population was rural, versus 20% today, and 78% lived in their state of birth, versus 59% today.
- 85% of men over 14 and 23% of women over 14 were employed full-time, versus today’s over 16 full-time stats of 69% for men and 57% for women.
- 14 % of people ages 14–17 were in high school; 18% of the population ages 25 and older had completed high school, compared to 85% in 2014. (You could leave school at 14, instead of 16-18.)
- Only federal employees had 40-hour weeks; the typical was 55 to 65 hours for the lower and middle classes.
- There were nineteen times more occupational fatalities per 100,000 in 1915 than in 2015.
- 31% of workers were agricultural; professional services was a small industry, and telecommunications/media, and many other modern industries simply did not exist.
- Women typically had one of three professions: nurse, teacher, or secretary/clerk.
- On average, men made $16,063 per year in today’s dollars, versus an average $50,383 for a 2015 man working full time. Women are harder to gauge in 1915. Remember, too, you had no benefits, vacation days, or sick days.
- If you had a problem with the above, you probably participated in some of the 1,589 strikes in 1915, or the 3,789 in 1916, or over 4,400 in both 1917 and 1918, with varying degrees of success.
- Chances are 4 to 1 you rented your home, while today 64% of Americans own their home.
- The typical home cost $75,600 in 2015 dollars, under half of today’s median home value ($183,500.) The bungalow was the new thing in home architecture, replacing the Victorian, and in cities, multi-unit residences, like today, were the thing; about a third of the population moved switched residences regularly.
- In 1915, less than a third of homes had electric lights, and they mostly had potbelly stoves or by coal furnaces. You had an icebox, no running water, and got your exercise by washing clothes and cleaning. No small motors for small household cleaning appliances until the years after 1915.
- Only a few million homes had telephones.
- Clothing was 13% of your budget, versus 3% now. Only working class women wore pants; men wore variations on the suit, or work clothes.
- There were 2.3 million cars on the road; most urban Americans commuted in street cars or rail.
- Like today, Friday and Saturday nights were social, but socializing was far more stratified.
- Though radios were around, you probably listened to a phonograph, and the radio only played classical music. Vaudeville and silent movies were popular cheap entertainment, and much cheaper than the $13 you pay today for a movie ticket… That is, if you lived in a city with all these readily accessible. Forget Netflix, iPhone, TV, or cat videos on YouTube.
- But wait! Bread, butter, eggs, and coffee were substantially more expensive in 1915 than in 2015, when translated into 2015 dollars. Food purchases were 33% of your budget, versus 16% today, and, because only the truly poor were thin, the ideal of health was a little chubby.
- Not unlike today, you started your day with a box of cereal or scrambled eggs and toast.
Take time to appreciate the wonder that is the the free enterprise system. Here's to another 100 years America!