Boomers and the Cost of Living in 1964

Remember when you could pull into a gas station and add one dollar’s worth of gas into your tank — and actually get somewhere? Those days are long gone, but are another example of how much change baby boomers have witnessed over the past 68 years. It has been just that — 68 years — since the first baby boomer was born, and 2014 marks the year the last batch of boomers turn 50.

Looking back over the 50 previous years, 1964 was momentous, not only for Baby Boomers but also for history. Here are a few of the historical events that helped shape our boomer world 50 years ago:

  • Lyndon Johnson, after assuming the presidency when John Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, spearheaded his War on Poverty that laid the foundation for food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid.
  • The U.S. Surgeon General released the first report that concluded that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.
  • The Beatles came to America.
  • The Feminist Movement was launched with the publishing of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan.
  • My Fair Lady won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • The first G.I. Joe action figure debuted; so did the Easy-Bake Oven, the Frisbee and the plastic version of Mr. Potato Head.
  • Three students were killed in Mississippi while volunteering on a non-violent bus trip promoting an end to segregation.
  • The Mustang was introduced by the Ford Motor Company.
  • The Rolling Stones released their first album in the U.S.
  • With President Johnson leading the political movement for desegregation, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin.
  • North Vietnamese ships attacked a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonken, prompting Congress to pass a resolution permitting President Johnson to engage in a full-scale war against North Vietnam without a Declaration of War.
  • The Warren Commission final report was issued, naming Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocation of non-violent activism.
  • China became the fifth nation to successfully test a nuclear bomb.
  • In the Space Race, the Soviet Union launched the first multiple-person spaceship to orbit the Earth, while the U.S. launched the first space probe to take photos of the surface of Mars.
  • A dozen students burned their Draft Cards in a publicized event to protest the Vietnam War.
  • Students at the University of California’s Berkeley campus began protesting after they were told literature about desegregation was political and could not be distributed on campus. This sparked a Free Speech Movement that mushroomed into ongoing protests on campus, which then spread around the country.

Mister Boomer has written about many of these world-changing events, and will add more about 1964 this year. Nonetheless, boomers born in 1964 were too young to recall any of these events, naturally, but in a recent discussion with some boomers about to turn 50, Mister Boomer discovered that one thing that is endlessly fascinating to this last batch of boomers is the rise in the cost of living. They marvel at the stories told by earlier boomers, and how we could buy a gallon of gas for the change in our pockets. A look at this list from 1964 is mind-blowing, to say the least:

  • The list price of a new Ford Mustang was $2,368, slightly above the average of $2,250 for a new car
  • The average annual income was $6,080
  • The median price for a new home was around $20,000
  • The average price for a gallon of gas was 25¢
  • First-class postage cost 5¢
  • A loaf of bread averaged 22¢
  • Coffee was 79¢ a pound
  • A gallon of milk averaged $1.08
  • A telephone call from a pay phone was 10¢
  • A 26″ color TV averaged $379
  • Minimum wage was $1.15
  • Beatles albums had the list price of $5.98
  • Around 60% of the population smoked, and paid on average $1.60 per pack of cigarettes
  • The average movie ticket was $1.00

 

Today gas hovers around $4.00 a gallon; the average home price is a shade under $200,000 nationally; movie tickets are inching closer to $10 on average; a gallon of milk is nearly $4.00; and a loaf of white bread is just over $2.00 on average.

The shock and awe of the 1964 boomers with whom Mr. B spoke is understandable, as costs have averaged more than 10 times those of 1964 for some of the same common goods. It may be that since these boomers were parents later in life than their counterparts a decade earlier, they feel the pinch all the more. Kids have a way of impacting household budgets, and it would appear today’s kids more so than boomers did in 1964.

Mister Boomer vividly recalls 1964, and many of the prices of common goods. Brother Boomer would buy record albums on sale for around $3 to $4 dollars. By that time Mister B was mowing the grass for a couple of years, so when the lawn mower needed gas, a walk to the corner gas station with the 50¢ he was given could fill the two-gallon gas can that was stored in the basement. Those two gallons would last for several months of lawn mowing. As for most of the consumables, Mister Boomer would go food shopping with his father, but doesn’t recall giving the prices much thought, other than the family rule of no unnecessary purchases and go for the best deal. In between supermarket visits, the family got bread, milk — and his mother’s cigarettes — at a small store two blocks away. Sometimes he would go with a few coins from his mom to get bread or milk, while on other trips Mister B and his siblings could buy whatever they were sent to get, and the total would be listed by the store owner in a little black book kept by the cash register. At a later date, Mister B’s father would go to the store to pay the balance.

Will today’s kids look back on 2014 fifty years from now with the same nostalgia for “low” prices? What do you remember about the cost of living in 1964, boomers?

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