The Economy Is Rigged: 20 Years Of Price Changes In The US

Money rests in stacks.
iCreative3D / Shutterstock

The economy is rigged.

That’s the conclusion following an extensive analysis of 20 years of pricing data conducted and compiled by HowMuch.net. The study, which looked at a wide range of consumer goods and services from the critical to the trivial, plotted price fluctuations over the last two decades. The results generally determined that things that are important and costly have risen substantially in price over that time, whereas items that are less important and less expensive have fallen.

“It turns out that the most important things in life keep getting more and more expensive, while the things that don’t really matter keep getting cheaper,” says How Much on their website in the announcement of the data and their conclusions.

The data, which goes back to 1998, begins with publicly available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That data includes both the costs of various consumer goods as well as fluctuations in average hourly earnings across the country, each taking into account inflation.

The study identified an “eye-popping” decline in what could be described as frivolous goods, including popular items like toys, computers, and cell phones, with these items, for the most part, becoming not only cheaper, but also better. Consider the quality and cost of a new television purchased in 1998 versus what a similar model would look like today.

Looking past this better, cheaper segment, the study determines that more mundane goods such as furniture and clothing cost about the same today when adjusted for wages and inflation as it did in 1998. Like the toys and electronics, these items have likewise improved in quality over that time.

So where do Americans see the biggest price hikes?

How Much places healthcare, education, and childcare at the top of the list, meaning that high dollar necessities are now taking a bigger bite out of the budget of many families. Each of these categories has also consistently outpaced the rise in wages, putting further pressure on affordability.

Housing, food, and beverages — clearly necessities — have risen steadily in line with wages, meaning that although they cost more, the difference should be approximately made up in the long run.

All in all, however, it’s the biggest and costliest categories of healthcare, education, and childcare which were not only most expensive, to begin with, but have seen dramatic jumps in cost over the 20-year study, with healthcare, for example, jumping more than 225 percent since 1998.

More details about the study, including links to more information, are available at HowMuch.net.