In the last ten years, what's gotten more expensive? And what's gotten less expensive?
Here's a fascinating snapshot of the last decade in American prices...
It comes from Annie Lowrey's look at U.S. poverty, which is appropriate, because you occasionally hear conservatives say that poor people aren't really poor because, you know, they have refrigerators and TVs, don't they? Yes, they do. More than 80 percent of low-income households have a fridge, TV, microwave, and stove. They can heat food and cool food and watch American Idol, no problem.
But the power to alter the temperature of your food and watch FOX is not quite the same as being rich. Tens of millions of families remain uninsured, millions more can't afford to go to (or finish a degree at a high-quality) college, and millions more struggle to pay for daycare for their children. Meanwhile, used HD televisions are dirt cheap and it's never been more affordable to buy simple electronics. Why does it seem like the least important things in life—TVs, toys, and DVD players—are getting cheap while the most important parts of the economy are getting more expensive?
Two observations here.
1) On poverty: Jordan Weissmann nails it: "Prices are rising on the very things that are essential for climbing out of poverty." The road to upward mobility is uncertain, but we know the checkpoints. Graduating from college—whose sticker price is actually rising faster than its actual cost—correlates with higher employment and richer earnings. Chronically sick children affect parents' mental health, and chronically sick parents hurt a family's well-being. Single moms and dads who can't afford daycare and wind up spending lots of hours watching after their kids have trouble finishing school or establishing themselves in the workforce. Just as the benefits of wealth create a virtuous cycle of behavior, the challenges of poverty start a vicious circle that continues to spin down through multiple generations.