Was Life Better in the 1940s and 1950s?

Do you feel your energy fade after you see all the negative news about our world? Headlines that seem to say things are getting worse everyday. Some common headlines I see are about how the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is losing ground, and that there is less opportunity today than in the past. But is it true?

This weekend, as my 2 and 5 year old sons were tearing around my parents kitchen howling in glee, one of them grabbed the tablecloth shattering the centerpiece on the floor. As we were cleaning up the mess my dad said, “things sure are safer today”.

“Safer tablecloths?” I asked.

“No, when I was their age the center piece on our table was a kerosene lamp. If I’d grabbed the cloth and dumped the lamp the house could have burned down.” he said.

“Why didn’t you just use a light bulb?” I asked.

“We didn’t have electricity or running water. We used an outhouse, you had nowhere else to go, even when it was 20 below zero, except the chamber pot. When I was really little, maybe 4 or 5, my biggest fear was falling down the outhouse hole.” he said.

“When did you get electricity and running water? I asked.

“We got running water and electricity when I was 11, between 4th and 5th grade, when we moved into the city because my mom couldn’t make any money on the farm. We didn’t own the farm. My grandpa lost his farm in ’34, so my dad rented the place. Dad inhaled poison gas during the war and it damaged his lungs. When he got home everything was fine for a while but it eventually caught up with him. He was hospitalized in the VA for two years and mom couldn’t make the farm work. The farmland was pretty poor, so we moved into town.” he said.

“How ’bout you mom?” I asked.

“My dad had a good government job and we lived in the city. We didn’t live on a farm like your father so we had running water and electricity as long as I can remember. I guess when I was born the house didn’t have running water or electricity, but I don’t remember it. Most small towns didn’t have running water in those days, so a lot of my relatives had an outhouse and an outdoor hand pump.” she said.

“I don’t think they had residential water in Ashby Minnesota until the late 50s or early 60s. You had to get water at a community pump.” my dad said.

“You lived in a damp dark old basement. It wasn’t very nice was it?” my dad said to my mother.

“My sister and I lived down there off and on until we moved out. My mother sometimes had to rent out our rooms to make ends meet. I hated it in the basement because the bugs ate holes in my clothes. I had to work at the dime store to buy all my clothes. I was fortunate to have that job, my dad knew the owner. Up until Jr. High my mother hand made my clothes, but after that I was on my own. I worked and bought my clothes myself and when the bugs ate holes in them it was frustrating.” she said.

“Did either of you consider yourself poor?” I asked.

“No, I had everything I needed. We had more than most people I knew. We weren’t poor.” my mom said.

“When I was young, we had a farm so we never went hungry. We were better off than most. Nobody had any money. My aunt Annie Larson had nothing. Hardly any furniture. She had nine kids. Her husband delivered everyone of them himself, at home, in the farm house.” my dad said.

“So you didn’t have electricity, running water, your parents rented out your bedroom to strangers just to make ends meet, you lived in a damp dark basement where the bugs ate holes in your clothes, and you didn’t consider that poverty?”

“No”, they replied together.

“So you considered yourselves middle class?”

“Yes, I suppose. We struggled sometimes, but we had what we needed. We were like most other people. No one had much money, it’s fair to say we were middle of the road.” my dad said.


I’m sure my parents told me this story many times of over the years. But I didn’t hear it until this weekend. It never sunk in. And if you think their social and moral environment were better, it wasn’t. Life could be very abusive and ugly, but in those days, no one talked about those things. But that’s for another post.

Cars, phones, running water, central heating, air conditioning, televisions, radios, prepared food, ready made clothing, comfortable mattresses, access to education, libraries, and sewer systems are just few of the luxuries many self-described middle class Americans didn’t have until the very recent past. Today, most of the poor people in this country have all these things and more. We do indeed have a high, high standard of living and it is still rising. Don’t let naysayers tell you things were better in the past, they weren’t. Even healthcare is far better than it was 20,30, or 40 years ago, even for the poor. Many of the procedures and medications routinely provided to medicare recipients were not available in the 50s and 60s. Only in a few pockets around the world (North Korea and Zimbabwe) are things actually getting economically worse. We live in times of vast prosperity.

A respected economics professor told me that she has stopped using the word necessity, because she tired of arguing with people about the definition of necessity. She said most Americans will argue that cars, TVs, and air conditioners are necessities. Some even argued that $25,000 fertility treatments are a necessity, but when one man argued, in all seriousness, that cable television was a necessity, she dropped necessities from her lexicon. She now states unequivocally that there are no necessities because 99% of her students cannot comprehend actual necessity.

Are things like cars, healthcare, housing, and education becoming more expensive in real dollars? Yes. But that’s because we expect so much more. Few people want a 1955 car, 1955 medical care, a 1955 house, or a 1955 education. They wouldn’t live up to our high expectations and if someone were to provide them today as they were then they’d be prosecuted for malpractice, negligence, or worse.

I am grateful to be alive today – grateful to have access to limitless opportunity, information, products, and services – all luxuries previous generations couldn’t have imagined.

When some negative piece of disinformation slips past your defenses telling you how rotten everything is becoming, return to this and read it again and be grateful for the luxuries you have. You are living in the best of times and they are only getting better.

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This post is part of the Season of Gratitude at the Balanced Life Center.

44 thoughts on “Was Life Better in the 1940s and 1950s?”

  1. Steve, that is a fantastic beginning to the Season of Gratitude.

    I even had an argument recently with my dad about our “necessities”. I couldn’t even believe it because he is an immigrant to this country. He came with nothing. The things he considers necessities – car, computer, higher education – I was amazed at them. Maybe we should define necessities in broader terms like transportation, communication, shelter.

    I’m not sure when it became a necessity to have a 3 bedroom house versus having shelter, but…

    At any rate, I, too, am extremely grateful to be alive and well in this era, in this country.

    In Spirit,

  2. My opinion based on antidotal evidence.

    I think gloom and doom is preached because the rules are changing. The last generation built the foundation and now the are expanding on that foundation. The world is now connected as one. What happens in the east directly affects the west. For Americans, there isn’t much slack in it’s system to accommodate structural economic changes. It’s more difficult for Americans to bootstrap yourself now than it was back then. Yes there are more work opportunities but there are more “things to buy” to compete and the taxes and inflation that go with them. Yes, I consider a college education, cell phone, cable, internet, and computer a necessity. They provide me with the tools and means to compete in the 21st century.

    Also, I disagree a computer isn’t a necessity. If it is considered a luxury please explain the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

  3. Thanks Nneka,
    I am grateful to be part of the Season of Gratitude!

    Just to get ahead of the game, I am going to respond to what I believe will be the strongest criticism of this post:

    What? Since you say everything is so great, does that mean we should just sit back and allow totalitarianism to creep into our system? That we should ignore the poor? The fire victims in California? That people with inadequate education should be satisfied with their situation? That we should quit building a better tomorrow?


    I am saying the present is better than the past, things are not getting worse, so take this opportunity to build a better tomorrow. Be grateful for the amazing access we have to information, communication, and other resources today and use those resources to build the world you would like to see. And for cryin’ out loud, quit complaining and start taking positive action. Build an idea! Build a business! Create some jobs! Learn something! Change yourself! Write! Sing! Dance! Exercise! Stretch! Meditate! Make a friend! Help educate someone! Create some wealth! Get up every morning and tell yourself that this day will be the greatest day of your life, and you know what, it will be, because today is the only day you have to live in.

  4. Richard,

    I don’t even know how to respond to that. I lived most of my life without any of the ‘necessities’ you mention. Today I have most of them and I could throw them away and still easily live to be 90 or 100.

    My great aunt Annie who is mentioned in my post and who had nine children in a farm house without running water or electricity lived to be 97.

    I am not a luddite. I love the things you mention… well except the cell phone. I hate being tied to that thing. But you know what? It’s my decision. I could throw the thing away tomorrow and my heart would go right on beating.

    You see, the problem I have with calling these things necessitites isn’t with the usefulness of these things in general. It’s when you start to believe you have ‘right’ to things like this. That is when you lose your gratitude. IMHO losing gratitude is one of the greatest losses of all, because it harms the ungrateful and it harms society. It puts us in a position of needing to ‘get’ before we ‘give’ but the truth is if you ‘give’ the ‘getting’ will take care of itself.

    Give 2x as much as is expected and accept every challenege and you will always get ahead. I don’t care who you are. Don’t believe me? Try it for awhile. The results will amaze you. The problem is, too many people don’t believe it so they don’t even try. They wait for it to come to them… and they wait… and they wait… and they wait…

  5. Richard,

    I owe you a response about the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

    The initiative doesn’t mean a laptop is a necessity. It means there are people that think a laptop will help children grow into better people. It’s a great idea. I love it. It should be supported. But life would go on without them getting a laptop. It wouldn’t end. But it certainly has noble intentions. But I can tell you a pallet of laptops in Zimbabwe won’t do them much good when they have no electricity, running water, and are starving.

    IMHO the only necessities are air, water, heat, food, and shelter. Those are the things EVERYONE needs to survive. After that it is all a game of relativity. The more you have or your neighbor has the more you think you ‘need.’ But in reality, you just want it because it makes you feel better. I’m okay with that, I like to feel good too. I like stuff. And when I say feel good, I mean happy or comfortable or inspired or creative or interested or whatever.

    I’ve met people who pray everything really does go to hell simply so more of us would realize what is really important. I don’t agree with those folks at all. But I can understand their perspective.

  6. This is a fantastic article… I’m new to your site, but I really liked this one. My father also had an outhouse, etc., when he was growing up, and didn’t consider himself poor (I think my mother was better off, but she’s never really mentioned it and I never really thought to ask).

    I’m with you on the whole people not understanding what necessity is, too. I have things which are necessary to live the life I’m living, but not just to live, or even to be happy.

    Again, as I said, great article… glad I read it, and thank you Aaron for sending me this direction (if you read this).

  7. Great post, Steve. Maybe you should have made your comment part of the post.

    Was life better in the 1940s or 1950s? I wasn’t there. I couldn’t say. I do know I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up the way my parents did.

    In many ways we are immensely wealthy – materially, culturally, and in many ways, spiritually. We have access to goods and services that were unobtainable just 30 years ago. We have freedom of thought that was unheard of 50 years ago. For this I am grateful.

  8. While most of what you said is very true, there are a few things that I look back to in the 50s that were great. The corner Mom and Pop store that I got my 2 cents worth of candy and where they knew me, the fact that I could walk to school and back without my parents worrying whether I would be kidnapped or not, the local carnival rides where the guy let me ride all night long while my folks were working at a food stand at the races.

    Some things were great. Yes, we have better health resources now. We have better technology now but do not forsake the past that we boomers remember because some of it was really great.

    The problem is that the world, while it is better in many ways, is far worse in others. I guess people would actually have to have lived then to see what I’m talking about. Yes, we did have the Bay of Pigs scare. I cannot tell you how terrified we were when that happened. We were taught to get under our desks as if that would have helped anything. They didn’t know any better.

    But we knew our neighbors. We could go trick or treating all over the neighborhood without our parents because they did not worry that we would get poisoned candy or apples with razorblades in them like it was later.

    Oh yes, some things were really good then, too.

  9. @Jaz,
    You’re right about the mom and pop corner store. Most of those are gone. We still had one in IGH MN until ’04. It might still be there. It was called The Heights Grocery. Neat little place, it was like a trip back 20-30 years. The kids loved the place too.

    About the kidnapping fear. As a parent it is one of my biggest fears and I am very conscious of the possibility. I am very careful with my kids. But I know intellectually that the risk is absolutely minuscule. Stranger abduction is the rarest of all crimes. You kid has a bigger chance of tree falling on him or being killed in a tornado. Kids were kidnapped in the 50s, 60s 70s, 1600s, 1400s, 1200s, and 32 B.C. I clearly remember my “Patch the Pony” education in 1975. It was in the 70s people finally started to talk about the perverts in our midst. They’ve always been here! It isn’t new. Young people have always been victims of predators, it is just that we recently started to talk about it openly. That’s why we think it is new. If a young girl was abused in 1950, she didn’t tell. No one wanted to hear about it especially if the perp was a respected member of the community. I know for a fact it went on the church I attended when I was young. Nobody talked about it. It was shameful. It was a taboo subject. The only thing that is new about this problem is our willingness to deal with it (a good thing) and our irrational fear of it and our sheltering (a bad thing). I don’t believe the fear of child abduction is caused by an increase in predators, I think it is caused by a change in the way we address the problem. So in my mind the past was no better in this regard, except to the extent that we didn’t worry so much about it.

  10. About Halloween, I know most of my neighbors and most of them let their kids trick or treat without adults once they are 8+. I don’t know if I will. I’m actually more afraid of them being hit by a car at night than anything else. That’s the biggest risk on Halloween you know.

    The poison candy fears are a complete hoax.
    There isn’t one documented case of it ever happening.

    About razor blades…
    There are 80 documented cases of pins or razor blades in candy going back to 1959,
    all but one of them hoaxes or one kid playing a prank on another kid. It never resulted in anything more than a very minor injury.

    Most of our modern fears are mass hysteria fueled by the news, our culture, and our thinking. That doesn’t make them any less real and it doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen. It means bad things have always happened, we just worry more today. That’s one thing I think was better in the past, we worried less.

    Much of our modern paranoia followed the Tylenol Poisonings in 1982. That was right around the time parents began to hover and overprotect.
    Some people say 1982 was the tipping point into a culture of fear and worry. We have yet to recover, but we will. All epidemics subside. Our epidemic of fear will subside too.

  11. Fantastic post. I continue to preach what the economics professor has given up on to my students. They are just amazed that people in many countries don’t have televisions, etc. We are really working on getting rid of some of that self-pity and entitlement.

    One thing…what about those of us who would like a bit more of a Luddite-style life? I get ticked off because today’s luxuries are mandated–like if I want to build a cob house off-grid, CPS might be at my door. Or perhaps I can’t build it all and get freedom from the banks because it goes against city code not to build something standard. I also found out how regulated a small cake decorating business can be–you either break the law or the average person is outpriced insofar as a commercial kitchen goes.

    Perhaps some of that is at the heart of why people pine for the “old days”. I agree that things are much better now, but I suspect that people had more independence in those days, although I could be wrong. I’d add freedom to my list of necessities, although of course it can be argued that there are many ways that we are freer today…more choices, etc.

    On the other hand, I spent the first twenty-five years of my life without an allergy medicine that worked. Man, thank God for Zyrtec! 🙂 It has literally changed my life.

  12. what you write is true – what you didn’t write is that all this prosperity is purchased on credit and soon we will have to pay the bill. Gold, Oil, the Euro, etc are all at record highs not because they are more scarce but rather because the dollar is dropping fast. It has to drop since we need to print money just to pay the enormous interest on the debt (both public and private [can you say subprime?]). Let’s hope you can write this same article a few years from now when the other nations on this planet quit taking dollars for all of the stuff we import.

  13. Actually, the last year that I went trick or treating in the 50s, there was the scare of poisoned candy and it happened. There were razorblades in apples in the area at some point, one of the years I was out. That year that the poison showed up was the last year I was allowed to go out because of that. I distinctly remember the news reports on it.

    There really were such things back in the 50s. I remember going to school at age 5, walking about 8 blocks to school and back. It wasn’t too far because I went home for lunch. Might have been 6 blocks. It’s really been a long time since I was in my home town and much longer since I was on those streets. But I was safe. I walked to school alone most of that time from age 5 to age seven. I even had bullies after me but my folks believed that when they talked to the principal it would stop. And it did.

    Kids today do not stop their bullying. They do not stop harassment. I have a family member who, when in school, had a nemesis who plagued her for several years without let up. They do not stop. The world is much worse than it used to be. You may say that isn’t true, but it is.

    Things that used to be safe no longer are. Things that used to be okay, no longer are. It simply is not the same world anymore. Believe it or not.

  14. Wow – This is a great post with great comments! I am in my upper 50’s and I don’t remember ever being without water, power, etc. However my Dad grew up very poor through the Depression, but I guess a lot of people did. They lived about 15 miles from town, up a river on a patch of land that they were fortunate enough to buy. My grandfather was a carpenter and he built the house. My grandmother had 7 kids. This was the norm back then.. I enjoy the stories my Dad has told me, but would I ever want to go back to that type of a life? Not on your life! That would mean I would have to give up my laptop!!!! Serious withdrawals at that thought!

  15. Great! My storyline would be we are the cause of our present and furture and when we finally get that simple fact through our thick heads (myself included) this will be a much better place to live. Think about it. Law of Attraction.

  16. Great blog post. Many people do not have half the items that we sometimes take for granted. Technology is great but it also is a double edged sword. I agree with the post by Michael where he says most of people material things are bought on credit which for a lot of people causes more harm then good especially with the middle class. If I had a time machine the 40’s and 50’s would be where I would want to visit to see what the world was like compared to now. Back then it was a lot more simple it seems but your right when you say we listen to to much negative and most news or media related items have more negativity that gets pressed into our heads than needed. Thus you have a very negative vibe from a lot of people these days.

  17. What a great article along with the comments. We have have good memories about the 50’s as kids but did not have the worries of our parents. Today, it’s a different story.
    Either way, great blog…..

  18. I can’t say myself if life was better. I know that my father grew up with 8 kids sharing a room in a small house that my grandfather built by hand. I think we have more opportunities today especially with the internet and the available credit. Even with the sub-prime crisis, credit is still much more available today than 40-50 yrs ago.

  19. @Jaz,
    I challenge you or anyone else to find a single official court documented case of a child poisoned from Halloween candy in America. Post the a link to acourt documented caseand I’ll eat crow. But until then, I don’t believe it.

    When I was a kid in the 70s, the bullying was endless and talking to the principal always made it worse. The only way I found to deal with it is the same way people deal with it in prison, with overwhelming violence. If you don’t have the capacity for that, then you remain a tortured victim. It is the nature of being institutionalized. The best thing you can do is get your kid out of the public school system. That is one thing that was horrible and continues to be horrible.

    @Michael and Randall,
    I agree many people have financed their lifestyles via debt. But then again many haven’t. I read somewhere that about 20% of “rich” people aren’t rich, they are in debt and can’t afford their lifestyle. But if that is accurate, that means 80% actually have the money!

    @ Randall,
    I agree life was simple then. Our systems today have created incredible complexity which I think may fuel much of our fear. We fear what we don’t understand, and our world today is far more complex because it keeps growing and expanding. Maybe that’s what all the bitching is about… complexity.

  20. What you say is so true. I’ve long felt thankful that I live in this day and age because life is much easier. My husband says that life is too easy, and I agree with him. But I’m thankful for my fully automatic washing machine and clothes dryer! I remember my mum telling me that they had no shoes for school and they had to walk school…even in the winter. And it wasn’t a short walk either. There wasn’t any snow in that part of New Zealand, but the frosts were thick. How is that better than today? It definetly isn’t. Thanks for a great article.

  21. Maybe people today just have more reasons to demand a better life. We really didn’t experience those harsh times. We have water, electricity and technology like the iPod. We have all these (sometimes unnecessary) luxuries in life. Although the 1940’s and 50’s may be simpler in a sense, I wouldn’t trade all the complexity today brings for that.

  22. Steve,
    This was a very good post.
    I love hearing stories from older people.

    I find many people do not realize that some people have still been raised without the necessities.

    When I was age 5 to about 10, I lived in a home that we had no running water. We and other families used the Pump in town for getting water. We lived without a fridge. We had wood stoves. (I get afraid of my kids around and oven but not once did I ever get burnt on our wood stoves.)
    I never once spilled the oil lamp or knocked over the kerosene lamp.
    I had more respect for the things around me. I feared getting injured.

    We had an out house. We used bed pans at night but some one had to haul it out in the morning! What a chore!

    We lived in Two Harbors, Minnesota.

    I so identify with the post. It brings back my own memories and I’m only 35 today.
    I’m thankful with how we had to live because it gave me a different perspective of life.

    This was a wonderful post.


  23. “So you didn’t have electricity, running water, your parents rented out your bedroom to strangers just to make ends meet, you lived in a damp dark basement where the bugs ate holes in your clothes, and you didn’t consider that poverty?”

    Yes indeed life was better then… Having a TV/Scooter was a luxury in 70’s and now Cable/Car a necessity. One family we knew when had a second child, said now they can’t do without a four-wheeler, while I have seem a family of four on a bicycle.

  24. Michael Grenier is right. The prosperity you see all around you is built on sand. Not only could it all blow up in the next couple decades, it’s almost certain to. The writing is on the wall if you’ve been paying attention. So why exactly should I feel grateful for a prosperity that isn’t even real?

    I agree that TVs, VCRs, 2 to 3 cars, etc. are not “necessities” and it’s ridiculous to feel you must have them. But you are missing the bigger picture. If people didn’t feel these were necessities, to be blunt about it, the economies of all industrialized nations, and the U.S. in particular, would quickly collapse. Don’t you see that if your blase attitude to these pseudo-essentials were to catch on like wildfire, the entire economy would fall apart?

    So that tells us something about the nature of our world. Our world is sick. Any economy that requires people to have childish dependencies on vast amounts of material things – to regard as essential things that aren’t essential at all – is a sick economy. If what is now rather condescendingly referred to as the Third World were to “upgrade” to First World conspicuous consumption standards, it would be an environmental catastrophe for the planet! And yet, modern economies DO have to grow in just this fashion – so obviously the game is flawed, and we have to start playing a different game. Just exhorting people to be “more grateful” and “count your blessings” and “stop whining” doesn’t cut it.

    Another thing: when you just point to all the toys and gadgets we have our grandparents didn’t, so what? They also had genuine communities and a sense of control over their lives to a greater degree. Because they WERE more in control of their destinies. It’s odd that an apparent admirer of John Taylor Gatto doesn’t see this – doesn’t see that the loss of personal autonomy and local control experienced by today’s generations is real. Is being a wage slave cubicle worker, an office drone, really an improvement over being your own boss, as was the case when family farms were responsible for the food supply? Is being a Wal-Mart welcomer, a fast food jockey at McDonald’s better than owning your own Mom-and-Pop store? How can you look on this as an advance? If anything, people console themselves with expensive toys and technology precisely because they don’t have any job satisfaction. The world of today in many ways resembles Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD, hardly something to celebrate.

  25. Chris,
    I don’t share you perspective of the present or the future, but I do understand why you have your perspective. I can’t explain it right now, but believe me I’ve been there before and I get what you are saying.

    Your comment about Gatto made me think…
    I do admire Gatto. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I do think his heart is in the right place. Yes young people do have less autonomy and local control than in the past, but you are going to fix it, because you know it too. You have technology no generation before had, and you are using it intelligently. We’ll get there, have a little faith. Don’t be a pessimist, it’s a waste of energy. Time marches on.

    I don’t think 1955 was better, but even if it was it doesn’t matter, we are alive now. You are never going to be in any other time except, right now.

    Figure out what you wanna create, and godammit, create it! Don’t be intimidated by the obstacles, don’t dwell in the past, move forward.

    I’m saying this to you…
    Because I wish someone had said it to me.

  26. Chris,

    One more thing. Do you know how much attention a guy like Ron Paul, a guy that wants to gut the education system and legalize drugs, would have gotten in 1952, 1972, 1984, or 1992?


    He’s raised over 7 million dollars in 2007 and is being ruthlessly attacked, not because he is nuts, but because his opponents are starting to believe he is a threat. They wouldn’t waste their time or money if they didn’t think he had a chance. Now, he might not win, but what is happening right now could not have happened at any other time.

  27. Steve, I so agree with what you’ve written! The “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” I think can be applied to any age. I’m 42. Last year, I gave my dad a box of retro candies from the 50s for Christmas, and it sparked a wonderful day of reminiscing. He grew up fairly well off by 1940s-50s standards; my grandfather was an oil company chemist. But the 1950s were times of polio; one of my dad’s friends spent a year in an iron lung. When summer thunderstorms or ice storms knocked out power, the machine had to be hand cranked to keep the kid breathing. My dad took over that job frequently once the guy came home from the hospital. The boy spent a year in a children’s ward in Chicago; every weekend my dad, who was about 10 or 12 then, rode the train into the city with the kid’s mom and dad, after spending all his allowance and money he’d earned on penny candies (like the ones I’d just given him), to share with the kids on the ward. He said a carton of 100 wax soda bottles made everyone light up, such a simple pleasure. (Me, I was struck by the idea of a young boy giving up virtually every Saturday for a year to go to a hospital miles from home, and spend most of his money on the kids there, most of them strangers–but Daddy didn’t think that was particularly heroic). Personally, I’ll take today’s healthcare, warts and all. And I’d like to clone my dad.

    I spent years living without heat or a/c (in New Orleans–no insulation in the house, and it does get both bitter cold and broiling hot here), but even in the 1980s, it didn’t seem like such a sacrifice to me while I was earning my degree. In retrospect, I had a $4,000 Macintosh computer in 1984 that I’d sunk every penny I had into, but no heat or a/c in my house, and my door on one place was held closed with a hasp and padlock. ??!! No car, either, and a lot of times, not much food. One winter, it was so cold in my house (I just wore a coat while I typed) that the Vietnamese refugees I was typing for and tutoring in English showed up with a gift of a space heater–I realized I’d hit a new low when the “boat people” who’d arrived a few years earlier felt sorry for ME! But things got better, and my education was worth it.

    Last year I got my gratitude reality check…by the truckload. Our house came through the hurricanes with only about $10,000 in damage and no flooding this time. We stored things from three other families in our garage, my husband worked from home for a year till his office was habitable, my daughter went to school half days so we could share our school with another Catholic school that had been destroyed. And our best friends (and their three home-schooled teenage boys) essentially moved in with us for 10 months. They didn’t sleep here, but were here usually from 6:30 am to midnight. And I’m used to being alone all day. One particularly stressed out day, while talking to our priest, who’s from Zanzibar, Tanzania, I told him I didn’t know how much more of the “full house” thing I could stand. The (much) higher grocery, water and electric bills were killing me and the lack of personal space was driving me crazy, especially while dealing with contractors and insurance companies. And living in what looked (still looks in some places) like a bomb zone. Instead of the sympathy I expected, he told me I should get down on my knees and be grateful that we were all able to pool our resources to survive, and said wasn’t it nice we had enough to share? He changed my attitude in a hurry! Now, even though my house still isn’t done two years later, and some things are back just to the “new normal,” I’m reminded of just how lucky we are that we live where and when we do. And I spend a lot less time watching the news–they haven’t gotten the picture yet.

  28. As you are – so am I – grateful. As far as those old cars that you think no one would want, if you know where I can get one of’em – 55 Ford Thunderbird for example – at their original price let me know – I’d like to order two.

    GREAT post by the way. Peace, Shagaia


  30. No offense, but the assesment here is kind inaccurate. I mean I definitely agree with the idea here that we have a lot of modern convienences, and that our current situation in many ways isn’t as bad as other hugely desperate times in the United states, and that we all need to look at the positive in life, but the initial statement here was regarding the 40’s and 50’s, but then you go into actually discussing the great depression periods of the 30’s. The later 40’s and 50’s were far different than the 30’s you were depicting here, and main fact is that in the 50’s people all over the US, were able to buy homes, even with nice pieces of land, raise a family, and actually pay their home off and save a real retirement with one decent income, now that is almost impossible. Even people with lower end jobs, like a milk man in the 50’s, could pay off a home, support his family, and save a real retirement. Now days, it takes two incomes just to make ends meet for a family, and forget really being able to buy a house with a nice chunk of land, pay it off, and have a real reitirement unless you make upper end, like atleast $150,000 a year type money. This is the biggest difference, and why the later 40’s and 50’s trully were a better time in the US. Also during this time, there was a good economical balance, and you didn’t have to totally tailor your private life to you employers demands like you do now, a man could be a man, and if he got the job done well his credentials came second. Now you have to meat an overwhelming amout of nitpicking demands to get the better jobs, like personally prying health exams, blood tests, urine tests, and that fact that employers keep databases of every employer you worked for, giving workers no control of who they consider their refernces, unless you have upper class credntials. This unfortuneatl places employers as automatically in control of your future employment opportunities, regardless of if they treated you unjustly or unfairly.

  31. My vehicle and $50 used stereo are my two most valuable possessions, in terms of monetary value (I am using my friends computer at the moment). I am amazed that people believe computers, televisions, cell phones and higher education are necessities. I think many of you should visit Haiti. My sister worked there prior to the earthquake. She told me stories of extremely poor families whom were happier than your average American. They aren’t running themselves ragged to aquire a larger bank account and inanimate objects. Both of which will remain with the living after they crate you or dump your ashes into an urn. Thoreau was absolutely correct. “Simplify simplify”. It is sad how obessed we are with what appears to be everything except actual necessities.

  32. Well I grew up on a small farm in the 1940’s. Been there! Done that! There are good and bad things about nearly any era in our history. However, just how many of the current luxuries are absolutely necessary? Times were much simpler back then, slower paced with less stress–was hard to go at a faster pace in a wagon, but they weren’t necessarily easier. That being said, most of the people were in better physical condition than the current “pudgie” generation.

  33. Things were better in the 1950s. I don’t need a high standard if living. I need to know there are jobs available for hardworking educated PhDs like myself and that a couple with three PhDs between them can actually get a down payment for a house and a loan for a home.

    And my parents were not using outhouses in the 50s and their parents had electricity and bathrooms in the 40s as well. Sheesh!

  34. In the 50’s people were satisfied with comfort. Now, everyone wants luxury. Colleges are jam-packed because everyone wants a 800k home with 2 luxury cars in the driveway.

    Why is everyone so terrified to be part of the working class?

  35. It’s people like you Steve that just don’t get it..Life was better then…It was’nt as complicated..and your prcious computer..Granted, it can help you find things, but what have you really found?..Can you trust what you find…It is a world of deception and misinformation…Even government is spinning out of control…Wall street is stealing your money and the government can’t stop it…Even congreeswsmen are out for themselves…Yeah, it’s a great life…It’s no wonder that so many illegal drugs are coming into this country…Somebody’s buying them…So you really thik that life is better now?..Maybe you’re on drugs…People need to realize that we have lost control in every way..And unfortunately , we can never get it back..Have a nice life..

  36. I read your article about the 40s and 50s but I have to disagree While we do have all the modern conveniences, health benefits, and education tools available, etc. that the 40s and 50s did not have … today’s times lacks family camaraderie. All the modern conveniences and outside influences that we have today have actually decayed the family unit.

    I’m talking about the type of family that I grew up with who was like the families portrayed on The Walton’s, The Beaver, Father Knows Best, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Wonder Years. Too many families today are torn apart and discombobulated with each person going off in pursuit of their own quests. The families in the 40s and 50s were close-knit and operated as a team. Their values and standards were high and came from lessons of love and morality taught by their parents and grandparents. The family of the 40s and 50s achieved their healing and spiritual uplifts within the family unit itself not from outside sources.

    I think you were only looking at it from the perspective of economics and the inventiveness of modern conveniences rather than the family unit itself.

    And while we’re talking about economics … how about those families whose parents have lost their jobs and homes and have no source to pay their bills so they live in their cars or on the streets or in tent cities? Where are their modern conveniences? How about the family in rural South Carolina my sister who is a school teacher told me about who have no running water in their home so they bathe and wash their laundry in the creek behind their house even in freezing temperatures? Where are their modern conveniences? And these families I’m talking about are not the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s. I’m talking about NOW TODAY!

    So how can the 21ST century be better? What planet are you living on? I don’t see anything in your article about any of the things I have mentioned or how these families who live in their car, on the streets, or in tent cities deal with every day life just to survive. My sister says you need to get a reality check. And I have to agree with her.

    You never touched on those issues at all. Not everything in this world is about economics. There are some things in the world that you cannot put a dollar value on – the family is one of those things.

  37. Were the 1940s and ’50s the best time to live (in the United States) if you were black? Is there anyone who can give a written or oral account of what it was like to live in the North versus what they experienced in the South? Because when I hear stories about how wonderful and innocent (and censored) the 1950s were, I imagine the people reminiscing about this time are likely those who I’d have trouble identifying with.

  38. Stuff does not a culture make. Creature comforts do not replace more broken homes, poverty, immorality, selfishness, an attitude of ME and a shrunken middle class. Fatherless homes and “baby mammas” and sexual perversion running rampant in media. I would gladly take the 1950s over the “stuff” we have now if it brought back that culture!

  39. Roz, even blacks had many things better then. Stronger family and moral values for instance. Less poverty than now. less black on black murder and crime. that said, just because one wishes for the good things of the 50’s, does not mean you wish to see a return of the bad things; like segregation.

  40. At least white kids could go to their local school without being traumatized by the black students in 1940s and 50s. But hey, if both parents are away from the home working in order to live in a “safe” area with “good” schools then life is great right? The kids are raised in daycare but that’s JUST AS GOOD as being raised at home right? I suppose all the single or married (and too modern to want kids) people don’t have much to worry about though – modernity is is great for them! Can’t walk the streets at night in your diversified area but that’s a small price. I suppose you could send your child to an integrated school (for the diversity enrichment of course) and hope for the best. If you notice your child’s once happy affect has turned a bit sullen… just chalk it up to anything besides black on white harassment, maybe ADHD or some other psychological ailment.

    No, I’m afraid the 40s was much better for children of low to middle income families – sorry Steve.

  41. Is life different now~ yes Is life easier now~ yes ~ Is life better now? I would argue NO! You can’t compare today to then because all that was known then was life then! Yes there are modern advances now but are we better for them? All the self-absorbed people with cell phones glued their ears? Complete lack of common courtesy! Life was simpler and yes~ I would argue better~ then!

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