Food Prices Relative to Average Hourly Wages, United States, 1919-2019

Food Prices Relative to Average Hourly Wages, United States, 1919-2019

Note: Hourly wage was $0.43 per hour in 1919 and $34.33 per hour in 2019.
Source: The Simon Project, Human Progress.

Due to a variety of technical improvements in agriculture, transformation, and distribution, the time price of food has declined across a wide range of items. The time price refers to the nominal price divided by the nominal average hourly wage. For instance, while a dozen bananas used to account for 74% of the average hourly wage in 1919, the time price fell to 6% of the average hourly wage in 2019. Across a wide basket of food items, the average time price fell by 87%. This means that food is increasingly affordable as less amount of work can be spent to access the same amount of food. Affordability improved at an average rate of 2% to 2.5% per year during that time period. Workers at a lower pay scale saw slightly fewer improvements, while workers at a high pay scale saw significant improvements.