Wartime Changes in the Cost of Living

April 28, 1941

Report Outline
Changes in the Cost of Living Since August, 1939
Cost of Living and Real Wages in the World War
Price Increases During the Present Emergency
Measures to Prevent General Inflation
Special Focus

Changes in the Cost of Living Since August, 1939

Latest official figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the cost of living for moderate income urban families has not yet been seriously affected by the defense program. The Bureau's index number, based on the cost of goods purchased by wage earners and lower-salaried workers in 34 large cities, with the 1935–39 average as 100, stood at 101.2 on March 15. On June 15, 1939, before the war started, the index was 98.6, and by September 15, 1939, it had already risen to 100.6. The latest figure is therefore only six-tenths of a point higher than the figure of eighteen months before.

Signs are multiplying, however, that considerable increases in the cost of living may occur in the near future. A special study by the Consumers Division of the National Defense Advisory Council, now incorporated in the new Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply, revealed that food prices went up from 1 to 8 per cent in 18 cities between April 1 and 15. Rent increases have been reported from all cities where defense industries are located, and the prices of some commodities, especially textiles, have risen considerably more than the general average.

While the cost of living as a whole has not gone up unduly, the level of prices for 28 basic commodities, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has advanced 37.6 per cent since August, 1939. The index of nearly 900 wholesale prices rose 11 per cent between August 19, 1939, and April 19, 1941, indicating that the pronounced increase in the cost of raw materials has been only partially reflected in the price of manufactured articles, and has not yet added a substantial amount to retail prices.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Cost of Living and Wages
Apr. 17, 2020  Inequality in America
Sep. 08, 2017  Universal Basic Income
Apr. 08, 2016  Future of the Middle Class
Apr. 18, 2014  Wealth and Inequality
Jan. 24, 2014  Minimum Wage
Jun. 19, 2009  Rethinking Retirement
Mar. 06, 2009  Middle-Class Squeeze
Mar. 14, 2008  Gender Pay Gap
Dec. 16, 2005  Minimum Wage
Sep. 27, 2002  Living-Wage Movement
Apr. 17, 1998  Income Inequality
Oct. 27, 1978  Wage-Price Controls
Jun. 16, 1978  Military Pay and Benefits
Mar. 23, 1966  Rising Cost of Living
Oct. 25, 1961  Price-Wage Restraints in National Emergencies
Jun. 21, 1961  Wage Policy in Recovery
Jun. 11, 1958  Prices and Wages in the Recession
Sep. 18, 1957  Control of Living Costs
Nov. 02, 1955  Wages, Prices, Profits
Jan. 26, 1954  Minimum Wage Raise
Jan. 02, 1954  Cost of Living
Jan. 21, 1953  Guaranteed Annual Wage
Dec. 17, 1952  Future of Price and Wage Controls
Nov. 19, 1951  Fringe Benefits and Wage Stabilization
Dec. 06, 1950  Wage Control
Jun. 13, 1949  Wages in Deflation
Jun. 04, 1947  Guarantees of Wages and Employment
Oct. 29, 1946  Decontrol of Wages
Dec. 01, 1945  Minimum Wages
Sep. 29, 1945  Wage Policy
Oct. 27, 1944  Wage Security
May 17, 1943  Incentive Wage Payments
Aug. 25, 1941  Prices, Profits, and Wage Control
Apr. 28, 1941  Wartime Changes in the Cost of Living
Sep. 21, 1940  Two Years of the Wage-Hour Law
Nov. 01, 1938  Industry and Labor Under the Wage-Hour Act
Jan. 20, 1938  Wage Rates and Workers' Incomes
Apr. 11, 1935  The Cost of Living in the United States
Sep. 01, 1930  Wages and the Cost of Living
May 24, 1930  The Anthracite Wage Agreement
Feb. 20, 1925  Measure of Recovery in Profits and Wages Since 1920–21 Depression
War and Conflict
World War II