May 6, 2016
A Look Back In Time
To look at where we are now we must look at where we’ve come from. I’ve been thinking about our economic history recently and decided to dig deeper in order to put things in perspective. It seems to me that we as a country are doing things that we need to get our arms around financially.
According to the Census Bureau, less than half of the US population lived in urban areas one hundred years ago. Recent studies show that about eighty percent of the US population now resides in urban areas. This is a drastic change was due largely due to the fact that agriculture was the most common worked American industry in 1916. Thirty-one percent of workers in 1916 worked farm occupations with other dominant occupations at that time being: Craftsmen, laborers, and operatives, which in today’s language would be considered self-employed. By 1920,this had been surpassed by manufacturing and today it is service jobs. Today, the biggest employer today is the government with almost 22M employees with Walmart being a distant second with 2.2M employees.
Think about this:
In 1916 14 percent of the homes in the United States had a bathtub.
In 1916 8 percent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars.
According to the Monthly Labor Review, the majority of the U.S. population was young in 1916. More than half (52.4 percent) of the 100 million people living in the United States were less than 25 years old. By comparison, the U.S. population has grown over the last century to more than 321 million, and only one-third is under the age of 25. Not quite five percent of the population in 1916 was age 65 or older, compared with 14 percent today. Life expectancy at birth for people born in 1916 was just 54.5 years, whereas the most recent life expectancy estimate is 78.8 years. Indeed, there currently are more than 72,000 American centenarians (people ages 100 and up) who were alive when the Charlie Chaplin signed his first contract! Interestingly, a new occupation, certified public accountants, expanded after the federal government issued the first Form 1040 in 1914. Federal income taxes began that year for people earning more than $3,000 (about $71,000 in today’s dollars).
The thing that interests me most about all these statistics is that commonplace items such as bathtubs, TVs, Cars, telephones were for the very rich or hadn’t even been invented at this point. It‘s staggering how much society has advanced over the past 100 years and how this growth in wealth has translated into an unprecedented level of convenience and productivity. So what does this mean financially? Here’s a few things I have found:
The dramatic increase in life expectancy is a major factor in the financial changes of the last century. People living today have a very realistic chance to reach their 80s and some will live past 100, which has led to the issue of stretching retirement savings. With pensions becoming increasingly rare, many find it difficult to save enough to fund their own retirement for 20 or 30 years.
Another problem is this increase in technology and everyday luxuries. 100 years ago ice was delivered to your home, cars had just become a mainstream product, and televisions were still 30 years from being invented. The unprecedented quality of living and technological innovations that we have seen in our lifetimes are amazing in their own right, but at the same time contributes to this consumeristic culture that promotes buying the newest innovations now instead of saving and investing for the long term.
Overall, it is important to appreciate how far we have come in 100 years, but also to be aware of the consequences it brings along with such advancements.
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