Carpe Diem

Think food is more expensive today than in the past? It’s not, it’s now cheaper than ever before

Marketplace — “Ever wonder how far your money goes at the grocery store today compared to decades past?”

“When you adjust food prices for inflation, you might be surprised to learn that your dollars go further today compared to 30 years ago — for most products at least. Don’t believe it? See for yourself with an interactive grocery shopping simulator that reveals how much your grocery bill varies over the past three decades.”

MP: Here’s further confirmation that food is cheaper today, relative to our incomes, than ever before, based on data from the USDA (Table 7):

In 1982, spending on food by individuals and families represented 8.3% of disposable personal income.  By 1992, spending on food had fallen to 7% of income, and by 2002 to 5.9%, and by 2011 (last year available) to only 5.7%.  (Those are the years used in the interactive grocery simulator by Marketplace.)

33 thoughts on “Think food is more expensive today than in the past? It’s not, it’s now cheaper than ever before

  1. But in spite of that, new data shows that, in 2011, the America spent over $60,000 to support welfare programs per each household that is in poverty. The data comes from the Census, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Congressional Research Services.

    What are these welfare junkies doing with their money that we taxpayers provide, many of whom earn less than $60,000?

    • If someone was picking up the tab for your food, you’d spend your food budget on other things. Maybe a cellphone? No, wait, you’d be getting a free ObamaPhone. Maybe a health care plan? No, wait, you’d be getting Medicaid and SCHIP. Day care for your kids? No, CCIS would be picking up much of that? I give up.

      • yeah, poor and out of work people getting a $15 a month obamaphone, a few hundred dollars in food stamps, and some cancer care for the sick kid… do you boy geniuses on the right really think that this is at heart of US economic problems ?

    • You know,My son and I do not get welfare.We live on 500$ a month from child support.Figure out how much that is a year. Then add up the $120 electric (most everything is shut off and we dont use air cond at all).Then you got $110.00 a month for phone/internet/tv. Then you got food to buy (no food stamps). Then there is gas and car insurance for a 15 yr old car.. Then there are household items such as paper towels,tp etc. Then you got breakdowns of appliances and add in home repair.Also car repair.
      Then lets get into the $25 copays for each doctor(7) for lots of health problems. Never mind the rent.
      And that’s without buying any new clothes for the last 6 years. Just saying that when your health takes a huge dump, you are screwed.
      I have tried for the past 6 years to find something productive and useful that I can do. Cause God knows life takes money at every turn.

      I’m not defending the welfare people cause I have seen them blow money on everything but their damn kids.

      But I feel like I’m lumped in with them as I have no income and I’m 52.

    • Wow! your memory must be a lot better than mine, or your palate is much more refined than mine. Either of those are not only possible, but likely. Nonetheless I remember corn tasting great in the 60s and 70s, and I remember corn tasting great last month. I’d be hard pressed to tell you which “great” was greater.

  2. And if we had a full economic recovery, per capita real income would be over $5,000 a year higher and we’d spend less than 5% on food.

  3. ahh, but what of the quality adjustments that you seem to like to apply to things like CPI?

    if you are going to compare eggs, meat and diary to the food of 30 years ago, you would need to use predominantly organic food which is much more expensive to be really comparing like to like.

    vegetables and grains may not be terribly different (though some are and many are far less fresh due to longer transport distances and truck ripening) , but the meat and dairy is loaded with hormones, antibiotics, and steroids, all of which are harmful.

    i guess we can all make our own choices there, but i sure would not eat it on a regular basis nor feed it to kids.

    this makes it a poor comparison.

    • morganovich

      vegetables and grains may not be terribly different (though some are and many are far less fresh due to longer transport distances and truck ripening)…

      Some of that may be the price we pay for more fruits and vegetables being available to us all year round.

  4. Playing around with CPI numbers ‘then vs now‘ is merely a facade attempting to cover up the reality that many foods today are more expensive than they were 20 or 30 years ago…

    My food purchasing power today isn’t nearly as good as it was in 1982 but my wages have more than doubled…

    • Except for staples such as eggs and milk, I think it might be difficult to know whether specific food items are more expensive today. Packaging sizes are different. Many if not most prepared foods have different recipes – recipes which I believe represent dramatic improvements in taste.

      My experience differs from yours, juandos. I believe that most identical supermarket items are cheaper today than 30 years ago when I was a graduate student in Philadelphia.

      • My experience differs from yours, juandos. I believe that most identical supermarket items are cheaper today than 30 years ago when I was a graduate student in Philadelphia“…

        Interesting comment john

        I almost automatically assume that living on the east coast is more expensive than S. Texas or Missouri…

        Bad assumption?

        Anyway my basic food metric is a gallon of milk and a box of Wheaties…

        I have a 1984 large box of Wheaties (Mary Lou Renton) that is 52 ozs and it was a $1.23…

        A gallon of milk was just at $1.50…

        The last time I looked at a box of Wheaties in the large box size which is like 46 ozs it was $4.63 and a gallon of milk is $3.59…

        So food is chaper?

        • Where do you get your 1980s milk price? According to this site:

          http://www.1980sflashback.com/1982/Economy.asp

          a gallon of milk was $2.24 (in 1980s dollars)

          At the same time, the average starting salary of Wharton MBA’s has nearly tripled. So has the median wages of registered nurses. Even if we did not factor in the gains in income due to our experience, it is clear that income gains have exceeded the increase in milk prices.

          Another article I found showed that the price of ground chuck increased from $1.82/lb in 1980 to $3.45/lb this summer. That’s another increase which is well below the increase in income for starting Wharton MBAs and median registered nurses.

          • Where do you get your 1980s milk price? According to this site: http://www.1980sflashback.com/1982/Economy.asp a gallon of milk was $2.24 (in 1980s dollars)“…

            From Sep of ’80 till May of ’94 I used to pick up my mild at a dairy just a little over two miles away from where I live…

            It was almost a dollar a gallon cheaper than the chain grocers…

            Another article I found showed that the price of ground chuck increased from $1.82/lb in 1980 to $3.45/lb this summer“…

            Well here in the St. Louis, Mo area the only time ground chuck seems to get as low as $3.45 or so is if one buys it in 10 or 20 lb packages…

            Normally its much closer to $4.00 per lb or a little more and has been for a couple of years now…

            Locally pork has gone in price by as much as 40 and even sometimes 50 cent to the lb…

            Wheat and corn products (food) seem to have consistently gone up…

            Bread tends to be at $3 plus a loaf locally…

            The price of a 2 dozen pack of corn tortillas has gone from $1.00 to $2.50 over the last five or so years…

        • “I almost automatically assume that living on the east coast is more expensive than S. Texas or Missouri…”

          I don’t remember supermarket food prices being higher after I relocated from Houston to Philadelphia in 1981. I think beer and alcohol were pricier in Pennsylvania, due to the restricted licensing.

        • juandos

          I have a 1984 large box of Wheaties (Mary Lou Renton) that is 52 ozs and it was a $1.23…

          If it takes you this long to finish a box of Wheaties I don’t think you have any room to complain about the new higher price. :)

          • If it takes you this long to finish a box of Wheaties I don’t think you have any room to complain about the new higher price“…

            Ha! Ha!

            Funny ron h but actually I hung onto the empty box because Ms. Renton signed it…

            I didn’t know who she was but there she was signing boxes, receipts, etc at the grocery store…

            So what the heck, she wanted to sign it and I thought she was a cute, animated kid, well why not?

            BTW ron h just to change topics momentarily you might find this youtube clip handy on occassion:

            Judge Napolitano: Why Taxation is Theft, Abortion is Murder, & Gov’t is Dangerous

        • True. In Florida here,We have a huge company called Publix that took over the state for supermarketing.
          We have a chart and we write down the prices of over 25 items and the price of them every single week for the last 3 years.
          Bread was $1.39(publix) now it’s $1.50.
          1% McArther gallon of Milk in Publix-$8.40 a gallon CVS same milk- $3.79
          Lettuce was .99 a head Now it is 2.99 a head.
          Publix figured if they mass build their stores every 2 miles here,people would go for conveinance.And they got ppl by the balls.. Most ppl here are retired and on budgets.
          So much money is being wasted on over blown prices.
          It’s not the gas prices that cause it. It may be all those ppl they employee to help you to your car or bag your groceries cause the cashiers are too good to do it themselves. I don’t know what the answer is,but it’s a very big problem.

    • That’s what the “interactive grocery shopping simulator” allows you to do, and you can go to the virtual grocery today, and then compare food prices today to 2002, 1992, and 1982, on an inflation-adjusted basis. What you’ll find is that food prices are cheap today compared to 10, 20 and 30 years ago.

    • David, I’ve been going to the grocery store for about 50 years. Have you?

      IMO, the quality and real price of supermarket items is far lower than 30, 40, and 50 years ago. The data Mark refers to backs up my opinion. Do you have any data to the contrary?

  5. As morganovich pointed out, everyone has there own opinions about the quality of food available today vs what was available in 1982. However, I am certain about one thing: the variety of foods available in urban supermarkets is far more extensive than what was offerred three and four decades ago. That’s true for prepared meals, for produce, and for meats and seafood. Furthermore, those extensive varieties are available in far more sizes than could be purchased in 1982.

    I’m not positive, but my guess is that the adoption of barcode technology in supermarkets and warehouses enabled grocers and their wholsalers to cope with the explosion of inventory variety.

  6. There is something missing here. The % of income for food is going down – based on the numbers presented that is true. However, would like to see some results for those on a fixed income, e.g. retired folks. My gut tell me that the % of what we spend on food has increased significantly over the last 10 years we have been retired. Is there a source where I could find this out that anyone is aware of……

    • I don’t have data, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. Social security benefits are not fixed, but instead increase with inflation. Most corporations switched to defined contribution plans a decade or more ago. A few folks are still living on defined benefit pensions. But even those retirees generally receive both inflation-adjusted social security benefits and fixed pensions.

    • Bob,

      It’s possible the percentage of your income spent on food HAS increased over the last 10 years if your income and your other expenses have decreased at a faster rate than the decrease in food prices.

  7. Define family, and the change in family-to-individual as a function of time. The change may not be as great as it first appears.

  8. But… all steaks 50 years ago were organic and grass-fed, i.e. cows in pastures eating grass without pesticides. Today they compare it to different meat and the traditional meat/produce/eggs are treated as if they’re premium. All produce was organic and organic, free-range eggs were the standard back then. Now we have a more easily mass-produced choice of foods, but the comparison should remain the same.

    • But… all steaks 50 years ago were organic and grass-fed, i.e. cows in pastures eating grass without pesticides“…

      Wrong…

      I was working a cattle ranch in south Texas in the sixties and pesticides/herbicides were used extensively otherwise various grasses used for feed wouldn’t have made it…

      Also there were cattle in huge feed lots where feed and treatments could be more carefully controlled at lower cost for tens of thousands of heads of steers…

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