Value of a 1940 Dollar in Today’s World

It took a while, but I was finally able to locate my 6 month old father on the 1940 census. He, his older brother, and my grandparents were NOT living on the street where I’d expected to find them, so it took a lot of page by page searching to locate them. Their entry on the schedule for Attleboro, Massachusetts, reveals a lot about my father’s family at that point in time and provides additional clues about my grandparents’ lives in the early years of their marriage. My grandfather only completed 6 grades of public education before entering the working world. In 1940 he was working 60 hours a week at a box factory and had worked 52 weeks the previous year, earning $1,650, more than double what his neighbors had earned at various fabric and textile mills around the area. It was also more than a neighbor employed as a policeman had earned. In fact, except for the superintendent of the local shoelace factory, my grandfather had earned more than everyone else enumerated on the same page, although a lot of his neighbors hadn’t been fortunate enough to work as consistently as he had that year.

The US Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics website offers a Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculator which tells us that $1 in 1940 equates to $16.39 today, and one dollar in 1939 had the same buying power as $16.50 in today’s economy.  Using that same calculator, I was able to determine that my grandfather’s 1939 income of $1,650 had the power to purchase $27,225 (in today’s dollar) of the things he and his family needed to live, such as housing, food, and clothing.

When the census was taken, my grandparents were living in a rented home, but a couple months later, my grandparents would purchase a home and 32 acres of land for $1200, of which he’d mortgage half, suggesting they’d managed to save $600 – pretty good for a machinest at a box company, with a 6th grade education!


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