Some people see those times as simpler, easier to manage, with fewer concerns and more security. Gas was 23-cents per gallon and you could get a really nice home for $22,000. A good price when you consider the average annual salary – hold onto your hats – just over $4,100.
So, yes, things were cheaper but only when compared to today’s prices. Actually, I think we have a fairly tainted view of the 1950s, America’s so-called, “Golden Age.” The “Leave it to Beaver” family unit and less-complicated lifestyles of those days simply wouldn’t work in modern society, for a number of reasons.
First, we had all the same problems back then that we have today, but we perceived and dealt with them differently. The country probably wasn’t as politically fractured as it is today, only because we were all riding a bit of a patriotic “high” after the end of World War II.
Technology or the lack thereof made a difference to our perceptions in those days too. There was the radio, a morning newspaper, an evening newspaper, sometimes an “extra” mid-day edition, and an evening television newscast. We didn’t get all the bad news of the world every moment it was happening. If we were going to tell people how our vacation was going, we had to mail out post cards.
According to the 1955 United States Census, America’s population was 166 million and the average unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, or about 81 million people. Today it’s about 314 million with a 7.4 percent unemployment factor, around 23 million.
So, barring some kind of economic cataclysm, as the population doubled, the unemployment rate followed suit. From a ratio standpoint, there were actually more people out of work 60 years ago than there are now. That’s good news, right? Sort of, yes.
What makes this a steeper hill to climb today is, once again, technology related. Labor-intensive, blue collar jobs like those at GM, NCR and other big manufacturers just don’t exist anymore. Many have been eliminated or sent overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor costs.
Additionally, many people – myself included – believe Americans to be lazier than ever and a good number of us simply don’t want to work. People are especially hard to motivate when employee benefits and pensions are a thing of the past and there is no longer any sort of job security.
Speaking of security, remember the “duck and cover” drills of the 50s and 60s? How much of a pointless endeavor was that? “Here, little Johnny, get under this desk so the Russian atomic bomb won’t hurt you.” Really, I mean, how dumb were we?
I suppose at least it gave us all something to do in the face of the unthinkable. In reality, there was nothing secure about the 50s, especially considering we were always on the brink of war with Russia and it only got worse as 1960 approached.
Personally, I think we spend far too much time looking back and not nearly enough looking forward. The past is done and you can plan for the future to some degree, but, reasonably, all we have is the here and now. Focus on making your present more fruitful and your future will follow along.