This post first appeared in 2011, after Price of Truth released. See more Andi’s Journal posts (and A Blast from the Past posts) in Andi’s Attic >>
Jobs and Wages
I was trying to scrounge up enough money to buy my mother a music box for her birthday (Price of Truth). It cost $11.95. Maybe you think that’s pretty cheap for a fancy music box, but not if you don’t make much money. Here are some jobs in 1880 and how much the person got paid (by the month).
- train engineer – $100
- carpenter – $37
- teacher – $40
- house servant – $8
- ranch foreman – $115
- ranch hand – $30 (plus food and housing)
- sales girl – $12
- factory worker – $35
- child factory worker – $8
- washer woman (laundry) – $12
- soldier – $13
- streetcar driver – $43
Someone would have to wash clothes for a whole month before she could afford one music box. In 2011, that would be the same as the music box costing $800 (if you made $2,000 a month).
Are you ready to try a little math? How did the average wage-earner feed, clothe, and house his family? The rent for a small dwelling was about $4.50 a month. In addition, it cost about $5 a month to clothe and feed each member of the family. Below are five families and their wages. Use the list of wages above to figure out the family’s wages and how much they spend on the cost of living. After you figure out their wages, decide if they will have enough to make it through the month. Or will they need to borrow money from relatives or friends? Answers are below. Did you get them all right?
- John is a carpenter; Sally stays home and cares for their 4 children.
- José is a ranch hand; Nila works as a house servant. They have 2 kids.
- Tom is a train engineer; Mary washes rich folks’ clothes. They have 5 children.
- Paul and Judy are both factory workers; they have six children. Three kids work in the factory, while one stays home to care for the younger children.
- Sam is a soldier; Jane does the laundry for the fort. They have 3 children.
- This family has $2.50 left at the end of the month. Not much for “extras.” What if the baby gets sick and they need a doctor?
- This family has $18.00 to spare. They can afford a little extra at times.
- This family is very well off, having an extra $72.50 at the end of the month. If someone gets sick, they can afford to call the doctor.
- This family is also doing “OK,” with $49.50 left over after living expenses. Maybe a new dress for one of the children is in order.
- This family is coming up short by -$4.50. Maybe Jane can pick up some extra laundry.