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Here you will find U. S. government documents listing retail prices for typical consumer purchases, and wages for common occupations. Data is broken out by decade from the 1770s-present.
Last Updated: Mar 21, 2014 URL: http://libraryguides.missouri.edu/pricesandwages Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Prices and Wages by Decade

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This guide points to government publications listing consumer prices for common items or "necessities of life."   Retail prices for specific foods, articles of clothing and other physical goods fall within the domain of this guide.  We included consumer prices for other types of common expenditures: transportation (gasoline or bus fare), housing, utilities, and school tuition for example.  We avoid pointing to sources for wholesale prices, prices for commodities, etc. unless it is the only kind of information available. 

Here you will also find typical wages and earnings for workers dating back to the 1700s. Since it is sometimes challenging to determine the number of hours that workers put in each week, earnings cannot necessarily be determined using only wage data. 

 We welcome your comments and suggestions: contact Marie Concannon, project coordinator.

Thanks to student assistants Scott Peterson, Carrie Carter, and Guinevere Lawson who helped with the research and creation of this web resource.

General Sources

  • Federal Minimum Wage
    Chart from the U.S. Dept of Labor shows the first federal minimum wage law enacted in 1938 (25 cents), and all subsequent increases through 2009. States could enact minimum wage laws as well, if they wished to have a higher minimum than that specified by the federal government.
  • Select List on References on the Cost of Living and Prices.
    Bibliography published in 1910 lists domestic and foreign publications dating back centuries. Use back-of-book index to find subjects such as "family budgets" or "clothing." Although the listings in this bibliography are not hyper linked to full text, one can enter the title into the Hathi Trust search engine to retrieve many of them.
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