What goes up ...

I heard on the news a couple of months ago that the going rate for the Tooth Fairy to pay for a tooth was nearly $4. When I lost my first tooth I got a dime, and if I remember correctly, the Tooth Fairy paid our kids 25¢.


That piece of news came the same week I had gone for a milk shake in a local establishment and it cost $3.79. My husband commented “You know, these used to be a quarter” and made with REAL milk and REAL ice cream, and were so thick you needed to eat them with a spoon or wait a few minutes until they melted a little. Of course that was in the last century (wow! — that’s the first time I’ve said that) and before everyone became so diet conscious that ice cream is low-fat and milk is skimmed. Whoever imagined (whoever wanted?) a fat-free milk shake?

And that fit right in to buying Granddaughter No. 7 a ticket for a movie and it was $12.50. I kidded “Why didn’t you tell them she is 7?” and No. 7 said “Grandma, the age now is 5 and under.”

I’m afraid the days of going on a date for $10 are a thing for the far distant past. You can’t even buy the popcorn for two for $10 these days, let alone a burger and fries later. How does anyone take the family to a movie?

When I count the conversations lately that deteriorate into complaining about the economy, apparently we are all in shock at the outrageous prices we pay for everyday things, from postage stamps at 46¢ (and about to go up 3¢) to greeting cards for $3.99 to gasoline at $4.00 or whatever it is this week. Of course, the wages these days are more, but when in the past a larger wage meant a better standard of living (or more toys), today it seems to mean we just keep even with the price of coffee ($10.99 a pound if you grind it yourself. If you don’t, you only get 10-12 ounces for about 75¢ an ounce). You can probably tell that I am still in the 10¢ comic book frame of mind. I can’t yet believe that anyone would pay $40,000 for a Ford when just yesterday a top of the line Cadillac went for $5,000.

We have friends Outside who, in 1960, bought a house. It was at least 50 years old then, a big old Sears house (yes, Sears used to sell houses in the catalog; they were delivered by rail and erected with a “house raising” by friends and family), full basement and rooms large enough to throw a dance in. They paid $5,000 for the house and lot in a small farm town in Washington State. At the time they were resigned to making house payments for the rest of their lives. According to a table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 years ago a minimum wage worker (who, incidently, made $1.25) would work for just under seven years to buy a medium priced house. Our friends’ house has been paid off for many years now, but today that house is assessed for well over $100,000 and the same table says a minimum wage worker (who is making $7.25) will work for 16 years to buy that house. And it is essentially the same house only now over 100 years old. They have maintained it well, but have never done anything to necessarily increase the value. And the small farm town is STILL a small farm town in a slightly depressed area. I can hear everyone saying, “Wow what an investment,” but comparing the dollars of then and now, they have hardly gained anything except the taxes on $100,000.

This same scale compared some price of then and now. Of course some of the comparisons aren’t completely valid for Alaska, but 50 years ago I was in Idaho and could buy a certain laundry detergent for less than a dollar for 49 ounces. If I were there today, I’d be paying nearly the same as here: at least $7.50 for that same amount.

According to this table, the “average wage earner” who they assume makes $23.89 an hour, will work 6.3 minutes to buy a half-gallon of milk. Yikes! In the first place, I am still wrapping my mind around over $23 as “average” wage, but a gallon of milk at $3.49 makes me glad my kids are buying their own these days. They easily went through a gallon every other day, sometimes every day, when they were small. And our “average” wage was far lower than $23 an hour.

I guess this topic was brought about by the recent efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. That would be nice, but then industry entry-level wages would have to rise also and it becomes a vicious cycle — the Tooth Fairy will need a security guard and for sure a milk shake will become a luxury item.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.


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