DENVER (KDVR) — Average pay in Colorado during The Great Depression was pretty good compared to what people living in the state make now.
In essence, the average Coloradan that had an income during The Great Depression made over $82,000 in today’s money. But the average Coloradan last year made less than $70,000 by the same metric.
“What you could buy with that money in 1930 is very different than what you could buy with that money today. So, I think that most people would probably agree that they are better off materially today, even at a lower average real salary, than they would have been in 1930,” Jeffrey Zax, an economist at the University of Colorado with a focus on public policy, told FOX31.
The Great Depression is described as the longest and deepest economic downturn in the history of the United States, beginning with the stock market crash in August of 1929 and finally coming to an end with World War II in 1941.
A compilation of income statistics shows that the average Coloradan made approximately $4,339.87 in net income during 1930, according to the U.S. Treasury Department Bureau of International Revenue.
“I think the consumption opportunities have clearly improved, so people’s lives probably are much better. But at the same time, the question of whether or not wages, earnings, are stagnating, that’s a relevant question over the shorter term as well as over the last 90 years,” Zaz said.
That income in December of 1930 is worth $82,244.31 in June of 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index inflation calculator.
However, the average Coloradan did not make nearly that much in 2022.
Last year, the average Coloradan made $67,870, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That income in December of 2022 would be worth $69,770.75 in June of 2023.
“Remember, very few people are at the absolute margin of existence. Subsistence is, fortunately, a miserable condition that most of us are not exposed to. When we talk about need, need is a tricky word. When we talked about need we’re not talking about the biological minimum to survive, we’re talking about what we think of culturally as the minimally acceptable living standard. Well, that’s a different thing, that’s subjective and it’s variable and it evolves over time,” Zax said.
Another caveat to the numbers is that this only includes people who were reporting, which was a very small sliver of Colorado’s population in 1930.
“The people in that number were obviously not the people on the edge, they were the people making enough money to report it. The people who had thrown themselves out windows, the people who were still unemployed, the people in refugee camps in Oklahoma or whatever it was, they’re not reporting incomes so they’re not in that data,” Zax said.
On the bright side, things could be looking up. Between June 2022 and June 2023, the state’s median yearly pay rose 7.4%, the 10th-highest rate among U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the most recent analysis of payroll data by ADP Pay Insights.