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PREDOMINANT PRICES PAID BY WORKING CLASSES, FEBRUARY, 1909, IN SPECIFIED

TOWNS OF THE UNITED STATES-Continued.

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PREDOMINANT PRICES PAID BY WORKING CLASSES, FEBRUARY, 1909, IN SPECIFIED

TOWNS OF THE UNITED STATES-Concluded.

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The prices of the principal articles of food consumption, like bread, flour, meat, potatoes, and sugar, do not vary greatly as between one city and another. With a view to obtaining for each of the cities a a general indication of the retail prices of food there as compared with the other cities, a series of index numbers was constructed, the level of prices in New York City being taken as the base, or 100. In order to allow for the varying importance of the different articles as judged by the normal weekly consumption by a wage-earning family, recourse was had to "weighting," and for this purpose average quantities were ascertained from the budgets of American-British (including American, Irish, English, Scottish, Welsh, and Canadian) families secured in the northern cities as being the group most suitable for international comparison. The commodities selected were those most generally consumed and at the same time most easily measurable. The following are the quantities consumed weekly, per family, so ascertained:

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Using the quantities for each article as shown in the above table and the predominant food prices as given for each town in the table preceding, the comparative index numbers, New York City being used as a basis, are as shown in the following table:

RELATIVE LEVEL OF FOOD PRICES IN SPECIFIED TOWNS OF THE UNITED STATES

AS COMPARED WITH NEW YORK CITY.

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It will be observed that the total range as shown in the table is from 91 to 109, the highest level of prices, 109, being found in Atlanta, Ga., and the lowest level, 91, being found in Detroit, Mich. New York, which is taken as 100, occupies an exactly middle position. It is of interest to note that this variation in prices of food as between the various cities of the United States is not greater than was found in the earlier investigation of the British Board of Trade in the cities of England and Wales.

UNITED STATES AND ENGLAND AND WALES COMPARED.

The predominant prices paid in February, 1909, for various articles of food in the 28 cities investigated in the United States have been set forth in a preceding table. In certain cases, for the principal articles of consumption, representing about 61 per cent of the cost of all articles that enter into the ordinary household expenditure for food in the American-British budget and about 66 per cent for those enumerated in that of the United Kingdom, a comparison is possible

* See page 568 of this Bulletin.

as between American and English prices. This comparison is set forth in the following table:

PREDOMINANT RETAIL PRICES OF FOOD IN ENGLAND AND WALES (EXCLUSIVE OF

LONDON) AND IN THE UNITED STATES COMPARED.

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The report notes that it has not been possible to bring up to date the individual English prices stated in the above table, but that records of retail prices in London are available and form a sufficient index of the general course of prices in the country. So far as the items shown above are concerned, the retail prices in London in February, 1909, as compared with October, 1905, show an advance of 10 per cent in the price of cheese, 17 per cent in flour, 8 per cent in bread, 6 per cent in British beef, and 12 per cent in foreign beef. The

6 prices of potatoes, milk, foreign mutton, and pork were the same for the two periods, while those of sugar, butter, British mutton, and bacon were respectively 7, 2, 7, and 3 per cent lower at the later date. Taken as a whole these figures, after due allowance for the varying degrees of importance of the articles included has been made, indicate that retail food prices were 3 or 4 per cent higher in England and Wales in February, 1909, than they were in October, 1905.

An examination of the above table shows that the articles in the United States that most nearly approximate in price at the specified dates to those of England and Wales are beef, mutton, bacon, and pork, the last named being the only one for which a lower price level is shown in the United States. In regard to the other items, a great disparity is shown as a rule between American and English prices, a disparity entirely apart from that due to the different periods to which the figures of the table refer. The greatest differences are shown in the case of potatoes and bread, American prices being in both these cases more than double those of England and Wales. As will be seen later, the consumption of potatoes per family, as shown by the American budgets, is somewhat greater than that shown by the budgets of the United Kingdom, and the difference in the price therefore has an increased effect upon the expenditure. In the case of bread the effect is not so great, as the average consumption of bread in the shape of a bought loaf is not much more than one-third of that shown in the budgets collected in England and Wales.

The remaining food items, sugar, cheese, flour, milk, and butter, show excesses in prices for the United States ranging from 44 down to 26 per cent.

In the foregoing comparisons no account has been taken of the difference in the quantities of the various articles of food that are consumed, either in an average working-class family in different sections of the same country or in similar families in the two countries. Internal comparisons of the cost of living in the United Kingdom were arrived at by comparing the cost in the various towns investigated of maintaining what had been found Ly investigation to represent, as regards food, an average standard of living in British wageearning families. Thus, the measurable quantities that made up the standard having been ascertained, and local predominant prices having been obtained, variations in the local cost of living were calculated by seeing how much it would cost in the different towns investigated to purchase the quantities of meat, bread, butter, sugar, etc., included in the average budget.

“Thus, if the quantities shown in the average British working-class dietary be taken and the question be asked what would it cost the same family to maintain the same dietary in another country, it is clear that the influence of environment and the tendency to conform to changed conditions can not be allowed for in the answer. The test is insular in character and to that extent defective. On the other hand, if predominant prices have been obtained for the two countries under comparison, and the problem be to determine what it would cost an average family in one country to maintain an accepted standard of living at the prices prevailing in another country, the hypothetical basis of any such calculation is manifest. Defects and limitations of this kind are, in fact, inherent in any attempt to compare international and to some extent even internal local conditions as regards industrial and social standards, and they are indicated here in order that the following comparisons may be interpreted and applied with as clear a conception as possible of the assumptions they involve and the elements of the problem of adjustment and adaptation to which they necessarily fail to give due weight.”

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