Archive for December, 2020

The Low Cost of Living

American cost of living peaked in June 1920, then declined for 12 consecutive months. It wouldn’t surpass its June 1920 peak for more than a quarter century, until November 1946 in the wake of the post-WWII economic boom.

In December 1920, this deflation was leading to such anecdotes as this one, relayed in the New York Times:

There is her mink coat, for which she paid $4,000 only a year ago. The furrier was haughty then when she had mildly asked whether that price wasn’t a bit elevated and had almost refused to wait on her. He had practically accused her of ingratitude in not realizing that he was doing her a favor to let her buy the garment at all, and she had really feared he was going to take her name off his books. Now she had seen the absolute duplicate at $2,400 and the salesman had showed a willingness to bargain at that! Could any woman be expected to keep her disposition after such experience?

In theory, the more money that circulates in an economic system, the less each individual dollar would be worth — leading to inflation. So when tons of money is pumped into the economy, inflation should skyrocket. Yet despite the $2.2 trillion CARES Act enacted in March and last Sunday’s $900 billion stimulus package pumping absurd amounts of money into the economy, the inflation rate throughout 2020 has actually remained stunningly low. In November, the year-over-year inflation rate was only 1.17%, which is actually lower than at almost any other point during the past three years.

Current Inflation Chart

Copyright: Tim McMahon, InflationData.com

 

The Low Cost of Living (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 26, 2020

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Written by Jesse

December 22nd, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Economy / Finance

The Rising Tide of Immigration

World War I had significantly reduced U.S. immigration. But by 1920, “they are pouring in as they have not done since 1914,” an article that year wrote. “For America is not merely the land of freedom now. It is the land of peace.”

“As it is, nearly thirty thousand immigrants are being handled at Ellis Island every week. More are coming through the gates in one month now than during the entire war period… And it is only the beginning. Were it not for the lack of shipping accommodations, ten million foreigners would be battering at our doors.”

As it always does, price correlated with demand, as U.S. Commissioner of Immigration Frederick A. Wallis was quoted explaining.

“Before the war a steerage passage could be had for $25. During the war it was possible to cross for $10. Now the rate from Hamburg to New York ranges from $120 to $160, and, in addition, there is a head tax of $18. This is a considerable sum for the European peasant.”

Immigration numbers might have been up for the year 1920 specifically. But over the course of the entire 1920s decade, immigration actually declined relative to the 1910s, though the numbers were still the highest they would be until the 1980s.

 

The Rising Tide of Immigration (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 19, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 15th, 2020 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Development

The Downtrodden Sex

In 1920, the year women were given the right to vote, this column argued it was unfair that women now had equal voting rights as men without the same potential military draft obligations.

In this the newly enfranchised female citizen enjoyed a distinct advantage over the male. The latter must with his citizenship assume military and other burdens, while his sister is called upon to assume no unpleasant and dangerous duties as compensation to the State for the advantages that citizenship undoubtedly confers. To that extent citizenship to women is all gain and no loss.

Whether men were then — or are now — “the downtrodden sex” (to use the 1920 column’s title) can be debated. But those aforementioned facts remain the same. All U.S. men, but not women, are required to register for the Selective Service upon turning 18. I remember doing so myself, my senior year of high school. The stated rationale was always that men could serve in combat roles while women were legally barred, but in 2015 the Defense Department opened all combat roles to women. Yet the military draft rules remained unchanged.

A federal district court struck down the male-only draft as unconstitutional in February 2019, but the policy hasn’t actually ceased because the Selective Service says it can’t change absent congressional legislation. In March 2020, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — a bipartisan advisory group created by Congress in 2016 to advise the legislative branch on military matters — officially recommended that Congress add women to the draft. The commission’s recommendation was put on the backburner, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown occurred the very next week.

The real news this month about a national military draft law comes not from the U.S., but South Korea. The country requires 20 months of military conscription for all men between ages 18 and 28, but 28-year-old Jin from the boy band BTS was granted a two-year extension until age 30. Nice work if you can get it.

Other laws cited by the 1920 article as more burdensome to men have since ended. For example, the column mentioned that many states only allowed men to be called for jury duty. By 1968, all states allowed women to be called for jury duty as well, when Mississippi became the last state to do so.

 

The Downtrodden Sex (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 12, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 9th, 2020 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market

In 1920, New York City “domestic servants” like cooks and houseworkers cost $65 or $75 a month, down from $80 or $90 a year prior. Why? Workforce supply was catching up with customer demand, due to immigration and women losing factory jobs they’d temporarily held during World War I.

For the New York housekeepers, it would seem, are on strike. They have not exactly got together in a closed shop or yet engaged walking delegates, as is the way with our best unions, but somehow a great many of them have decided that the “flood of immigration” is bringing them over Olgas and Gretchens at the dear old $35-a-month-figure, if not $25 — and that, therefore, Delia and Agnes can go hang or come down.

Interesting that Gretchen was used as shorthand for an immigrant’s name in 1920; I know a Gretchen now, and she’s American-born.

The article also featured this antiquated minstrel-style quote from a housekeeper responding to an employment request from a woman with two children.

“Oh, thank de Lord!” breathed the respectable-looking negro woman who had stopped me on the street just outside the door of another agency. “Honey,” she said, “I jes’ naterly can’t stand no house without its got chillen runnin’ ’round ‘yellin.’ ‘Aunty, ain’t them cookies done?’ Sure, I been cookin’ cookies ‘fore you born. Yes’m, I’ll work for $12 a week. It ain’t what I been gittin,’ but I wants a good home for Winter.”

Different times.

 

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 5, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 2nd, 2020 at 11:58 am

Posted in Life