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Susan Green

Cost of Living and the Quality of Goods

We’re Getting Shoddy for Our Money

(20 December 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 51, 20 December 1943, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Mrs. Philip L. Crowlie, the OPA’s “typical housewife,” reports: “Housewives are dismayed to see the quality going out of shoes and materials, with prices remaining the same or rising.”

Mrs. Crowlie has just made an investigating tour for the OPA in Montana, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming and parts of Oregon and Arizona. So it’s not only in your home town that you’re getting shoddy for your money – and for more of your money at that.

Department store buyers admit that they are putting into their shelves “merchandise that we never would have carried before.”

A wholesale butcher in New York recently stated that much of the meat put on the market is only good for “chewing gum,” so low is its quality.

Undoubtedly, nearly everything from a man’s overcoat or suit to a bottle of whisky, from a piece of meat to a piece of furniture, is of questionable quality.

Statistics – and Statistics

Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics unconcernedly continues to publish so-called statistics on the cost of living – statistics that do not take into account AT ALL the deterioration in quality of merchandise. This is frankly admitted by Miss Faith Williams, chief of the Cost of Living Division of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Says Miss Williams: “As for deterioration in quality, we have not been able to find a statistical measure of how much less an item will wear.”

Still the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the cost of living has gone up ONLY 23.4 per cent from January 1941 to October 1943 Labor says: “That’s a laugh. Such statistics do not reflect the truth as known by every housewife.” Every housewife knows that labor is right.

Let us see how poorer quality and higher prices affect the average family budget.

Women’s dresses around the $4.00 or $5.00 level are now so poorly made and so cheap looking that if a woman buys one she is throwing away her money on a dress that has no durability, warmth or anything. For TWICE AS MUCH she may get a garment comparable to the former $4.00 quality. The shoddy goods on the market are certainly not priced according to their inferior quality.

A salesman of children’s clothing said of a coat his store was selling at $6.90 which looked like one formerly priced at $6.00, “but the material in this year’s model is so poor that it’s not worth anything, really.” And how much protection from the cold does a child get who wears such shoddy?

Boys’ shirts of inferior quality to those formerly selling for less than a dollar are now priced at more than a dollar.

Several columns could be filled with instance after instance of the same maddening practice of passing off shoddy at higher prices than better quality merchandise used to cost.

Home-Made Statistics

Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t include such a trifling matter in its cost of living index. It does not know how to measure deterioration in quality!

But the housewife whose youngster in no time at all has run through a pair of shoes costing $2.98, and who therefore has to decide to try a pair at $3.98 – and has similar experiences all along the line – knows what has happened to the cost of living.

It is not only the exclusion of quality deterioration that makes the cost of living averages of the Bureau of Labor Statistics such a farce.

In figuring averages, these statisticians give the same importance to items whose price has remained stable but which the housewife does not buy often, as to items of EVERYDAY USE whose prices have SKYROCKETED.

They do not consider the widespread violations in OPA ceilings nor the effects of the black market operating in every field.

Neither do the official figures reflect the runaway prices prevalent in war plant areas.

Nor do they reflect what storekeepers charge good customers for shortage goods – when the statisticians of the Bureau of Labor are not looking.

The official cost of living index does not, of course, include the high cost of taxes to the working class family.

Yet these are the phony figures that are being used to show that labor is on easy street – that workers’ wages have gone up more than the cost of living.

Could that be the reason why so many war bonds are already being redeemed by the little man? A reporter for the United Press asked

people standing in line waiting their turn to cash in their bonds, why they were doing it. The answer was, of course, that they needed the money. Some needed money for Christmas presents, some for doctors’ bills. Large groups of workers are now on the move to get more pay. The Little Steel wage formula, based on the farcical cost of living index of the Bureau of Labor, has put more profits into the pockets of the capitalists. The workers are demanding wages commensurate with the REAL cost of living.

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