General Articles


These are inflation’s victims, going short on milk, eggs and cocktails

November 15 1947
General Articles


These are inflation’s victims, going short on milk, eggs and cocktails

November 15 1947


These are inflation’s victims, going short on milk, eggs and cocktails


PETER COLLETTE, about 40 years of age, union man, unskilled laborer, earns $36 a week. Before the war he earned $21 a week. Out of his current salary he gives his wife about $20 a week for food. That sum used to be for food and incidentals, but these days a family of six can easily eat up the $20, says Marg Collet to.

From his part of his money, Peter pays $25 a month rent for a converted store front, although the space rented as a store for $10 a month before the war. He has divided it into tiny cubicles to ensure some privacy to himself, his wife and the four small children. Before the war he rented a sixroom house for $20 a month. This makeshift apartment on Clinton street in downtown Toronto is heated only by a stove. There are no bathing facilities. The toilet is in the cellar.

The children are Diane, Peter, Philip and Paul, ranging in ages from seven to nearly one. Their welfare is the Collette’s greatest problem. We’ll give the floor to Mrs. Collette, talking in the cubicle t hat does for a living room, with a grey cloth curtain hung over the wide store window to keep out noise, as well as light . Peter, nearly one, chuckles in his crib by the couch. There’s not much floor to hold— there’s only a four-by-five-foot patch left when all the furniture is crammed into the room.

Mrs. Collette says: “We’re

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cutting down on food. Why, if we had a quart of milk each a day the way it says in those health booklets it would cost us 96 cents a day which would be over $29 a month. We can’t afford that. So we try to get along on three quarts a day rather than six.

“We seemed to be getting along well enough before the war. Of course we’re unlucky now in not being able to rent any decent accommodation for a price we could afford to pay. It seems to me food’s taking up all the little extra in way of money we had.

“It isn’t only the milk. It’s bacon and eggs for breakfast, for example. Eggs used to be 30 cents a dozen, now they’re twice that, often. That would be about $1.75 a week on eggs for breakfast alone. Bacon used to be 49 cents a pound. Now it’s near 80. Say with two pounds of that a week, used carefully, hacon and eggs would cost us nearly $3.50 a week. Who can afford that?

“So for breakfast we give the kids cereal and toast. For lunch on cold days I make them soup. You can buy a soupbone cheaply enough. And I give them sandwiches. For dinner it seems to me I’m always making stew. In stew you can use cheaper cuts of meat and still make them testy. And it’s filling.

“We used to have a lot of macaroni and spaghetti, but that’s gone up from 15 cents a pound to 30 cents a pound. Now it’s potatoes. I don’t know what we’d do without them. And yet, you know, I keep remembering the store where before the war you could buy a pound of sausages for 10 cents.”

Pete Collette drew the conclusions: “Everyone I know is getting paid more than he got before the war. But take us, we aren’t half as well off now as we were when I got $21 a week. And we’ve even used up all the savings I piled up at that time. I just don’t get it.”

Trying to Live on a Pension

AND THEN there is Mrs. Mary Webb, 60 years L of age, trying to live on her $720 war widows’ pension. Can she do it? Can she rent a room or a flat, buy her food and clothing, pay for her doctor’s bills and medicine, on $720 a year in the year 1947? She finds she cannot.

She was living in Brantford when her musician husband died in World War I, leaving her a widow with a six-year-old daughter and a boy of two and a half. By taking occasional work in the first-aid room of a factory she brought the children up on her pension and mother’s allowance. She put them through public and high schools. When young Jack couldn’t get a job after graduating she spent her savings to give him an extra commercial course.

By the time he was able to help support her the second war had started. He joined the RCAF and was killed in 1944. Meanwhile her daughter had moved to Toronto, to a secretarial job.

Before the war Mrs. Webb could feed her family for about $35 a month. Today she finds, eating many of her meals out and being on a diet that insists on meat, that $35 a month barely covers the cost of her own meals. So she has found herself a job as a companion-practical nurse in an old people’s home, which provides her with her bed and board. With these major expenses covered she feels she will be able to manage.

However, she points out that where a $720 pension to war widows was adequate when it was first granted, it does not cover their needs in these years of higher living costs. On her income she supported herself and two children in the years between the wars. Now she can’t support herself on her pension alone.

They Can’t Have Oranges

THE McLEANS are the sort of people who should be buying a house. That’s the way they feel about it. If times were normal they’d have saved the down payment and would be able to meet other payments. But the high cost of living has deprived them of the sense

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inflation's Victims

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of security owning their own house would give them.

They live today in a pleasant rented stone house on Bedford Park Ave., in north Toronto. It is only by a lucky chance that they were able to get the house for $35 a month. However, just the other day surveyors were wandering around. It seems the house will have to be torn down to give space to the extension of a through street.

Reginald McLean is a painter and decorator. He started in business for himself in 1940. Up until then he had made about 75 cents an hour, or $1,560 a year. For the work he is doing now union wages would be about $1.15 an hour. However, as he works for himself he figures he clears about $40 a week, or just over $2,000 a year. It’s a gain of $500 from his prewar wages.

Yet he has not been able to save anything at all for some years now. He has also used up the savings of former years both in his business and in family emergencies such as illness.

Their five children, Gerald, Gaynor, Gordon, Brian and Robin, are 15, 13, 12, 4V2 and 2. Inside the house is clean and bright, but bare. There are no rugs or curtains, but there are a few books and Mr. McLean’s oil paintings, his major recreation which he finances by occasionally selling a painting.

It seems to Marg McLean that every cent these days goes into food. Four years ago she got along on a $10 a week allowance for food. Today she gets $26 a week and finds she has to plan carefully to make it cover three meals a day for her family of seven.

The children are, of course, bigger and eat more. On the other hand, she is not buying the same variety nor quality of food.

The McLeans are cutting down on milk, meat, fruit and the more expensive vegetables. Where milk cost 12 cents a quart in 1939, it, is now 16 cents. Roasts, then 36 cents a pound, are 58 cents a pound. Oranges were 29 cents a dozen, now they’re 59 cents a dozen; a head of lettuce was 5 cents, now it’s 11'2 cents or more; cabbage, 5 cents a pound now is 7 cents a pound. A bunch of celery which cost 7 cents in 1939 now costs 17 cents. Such vegetables as asparagus and broccoli,which have gone up from 9 cents a pound to 25 cents a pound and from 19 cents a pound to 29 cents a pound, are entirely beyond the McLean budget.

False Teeth for Economy

“Even navy beans, and that’s what the low-income groups have based their diet on for years, have gone up from three cents to seven cents a pound,” Marg McLean said. “It. might not seem much to pay, but do you realize it’s more than a 100% increase?

“It seems to me the things we have had to cut down on are just the things you have to have. Sometimes the boys bring charts from school about the sort of diets they’re supposed to have. It’s nice to know about them, but how are you going to give it to them ?

“We’ve had to think up new rules, such as not using any butter on your bread if you use jam. I’ve used these butter stretching recipes so we could all use some butter, but I couldn’t keep it up during the summer months—our icebox didn’t stay cold enough.

“Do you realize that, if I gave the family the oranges, milk, eggs and bread that I am supposed to give them breakfasts alone, for a week, would cost us $11.70? You just can’t do it. Porridge is our breakfast staple. That’s

up too. I used to get three pounds of oatmeal at 18 cents a pound and that would last a week. Now it’s three pounds for 24 cents.”

With the rise in food costs obviously corresponding to—or keeping slightly ahead of—the rise in Mr. McLean’s wages, where does Mrs. McLean economize to try to balance the budget? First of all the margin for savings doesn’t exist. Secondly, she tries to do without medical care whenever possible. For example, when she had trouble with her teeth after Brian’s birth, she had them all out and a plate put in, figuring that in the long run this would be less expensive. When one of the children had something wrong with his feet and she couldn’t get him accepted at the free clinic at the Sick Children’s Hospital (though low, their income level is above that of the free-patient group) she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford a specialist. So she boughr him reinforced shoes and hoped. Shoes are the highest expense item on their clothing list. Children’s shoes are up from $2 and $3 to $5 and $6.

So, in short, higher cost of living means to the McLeans: nohouseof their own, no extras, an insurance policy of only $1,000 on Mr. McLean because they couldn’t pay for a bigger one, and with that a sense of insecurity. It means that while before the war, with less money coming in, there was a margin for recreation and saving, today’s higher pay has been blotted dry by higher prices.

Office Girls Go Hungry

There is another low-income group that finds it difficult to balance wages and expenses—the “white-collar girls." That label today fits a smart-looking fresh-faced young woman such as Jeanie Hill, secretary. Her salary is $28 a week, about average for the officeworker group, most of whom earn $17.50 to $27.50 a week, a few up to $35 a week and even fewer up to $50. Most of them live away from home, in a single room without grill privileges or in boardinghouses. According to Jeanie, they pay anywhere from $8.50 to $15 a week fora furnished room.

“The girl who has to buy all her meals tries to budget herself to 30-eent breakfasts, 50-cent lunches and 85-cent dinners,” Jeanie explained. “This amounts to $11.50 a week, or $46 a month. With the current food prices, on this budget, she does not get a balanced diet.

“If she can get a room with a grill and a kind landlady who’ll let her store food in her refrigerator, so that she can make her own breakfast and occasional dinner, $32.25 would with careful planning cover the cost of food for a month. Room with board, owing to the cost of food, is hard to get and high in price.”

Jeanie saves by cutting down on her meals. This means she has less energy for her job. She is an easy victim of colds and other sickness. She also cuts down or eliminates the allotment for recreation and education, the first of which is essential for her mental wellbeing, while the second is a must if she wants to hold her own in a job or earn a promotion. Sometimes, to save, she shares a room with another girl, which means that neither of them ever has any privacy.

They feel they cannot cut down on clothing. Jeanie Hill puts it like this: “When a firm pays you about $30 a week they expect a reasonably wellturned-out person to come to work. Your job actually depends on how you look. That means your ‘personal grooming’ expenses, which include cleaners, toilet goods and the occasional permanent, are pretty high and

can’t Ixt avoided. From a piece of soap to a permanent, they all cost about twice as much as before the war. As for clothes, a suit which you saved to get at $40, even only two years ago, now costs $55. Yet, if you buy cheaper clothes they wear out twice as fast.

“Our wages have gone up a bit, yes. A girl who earned $17.50 in 1939 may be getting $27.50 now. Hut the higher exist of restaurant meals, clothes to wear to the office, rent, and the rest of it, add up to more than the wage rise.”

A number of girls have left whitecollar jobs for domestic service. “You get your board and meals free,” they explain. “'Throughout the day you wear a uniform that’s provided for you and save on your own clothes. What you earn, and you can get as high as $80 a month, is clear.”

Jennie is worried that she can’t save. “I looked into the annuity problem the other day,” she said. “To provide for an annuity of $50 a month at 65 I’d have to put. away about $20 a month now. Depending on the age at which the girl starts this project, the monthly payment is anywhere from $10 to $30 a month. Speaking for myself 1 just simply haven’t got $20 1 can spare out of daily living. And yet, what if I don’t ever get married? What’ll I do when I’m old?”

No More Amenities

While the cost of living has zoomed there is a group of people who live on a girdle-tight fixed salary. These include teachers, ministers, civil servants, professors, university employees and i groups of doctors working for firms and I employed on a salary.

The little stretch that (his financial I girdle gives is the difference between I the minimum and maximum salaries and the small cost of living bonus granted during the war, which in some cases was incorporated as a raise into the salary.

Harold King, a teacher in a Toronto school, earned the maximum salary of $3,800 in 1939. During the war the 'Toronto Hoard of Education boosted this maximum to $4,100. This does not necessarily apply to teachers’ salaries elsewhere in Canada. Is IVlr. King better off today with his extra $300 than he was before the war?

Mrs. King says No.

“In normal times people in the j fixed-salary groups have a ‘cultural margin’ that’s for books, concerts, travel,” she said. “'The kids take music lessons. The family doesn’t dress particularly smartly, but to entertain they did use to be able to buy liquor, they took summer trips, though not necessarily first-class, and they took in the occasional theatre and concert. 'These amenities, reasonable as they are, such families always valued highly.”

'This is where the life of people typified by the Kings is changed as compared with 1939. Themarginbevond the direct cost of Living, which made these “amenities” possible, is today swallowed up by the swollen food budget.

“And of course we are also buying cheaper cuts of meat, doing our own baking and beginning to do much more canning and preserving than we have done for years,” says Mrs. King. “We are doing our own wash instead of getting someone in to do it. We think twice before having a sitter or parttime nurse with our children. We do the heavy cleaning ourselves rather than pay a woman to come in and do it. Yet, while doing this, we still find ourselves shorter on cash than in the years before the war.

“We aren’t entertaining as much. Everybody speaks of how they just

serve bread and butter and tea these days, rather than the feasts they used to try to provide for guests. Clothes buying has to be concentrated on children because they go through their clothing so much more violently.”

The Well-to-Do Feel It

'Then there are the people who in 1939, on $6,000 to $7,000 a year, kept two maids and a laundress. Today they find themselves doing their own work. 'They used to rent summer cottagesat popular resorts. Today they don’t, both because of the prohibitive cost of such cottages and because of the difficulty in getting domestic help. They once sent their clfildren to expensive camps and private schools. “Now you do it in a harassed sort of a way, if you do it at all, wondering where you could cut down to pay for it,” says Mrs. T. W. Scott, one housewife in this class. “You cut down on clothes for yourself and in hiring help to run the house.”

Mrs. Scott’s food bills come to astronomical sums because she and those like her still buy the fruits and luxuries they have been accustomed to serving their families. More children of well-to-do families are going to public schools and collegiates than ever before.

In the $10,000 a year and up income groups there are differences, too. “You entertain a lot less,” Mrs. P. Heathcote of North York explained. “I get $400 a month for food, the maids’ wages, incidentals. You cannot get a couple under $150—if you can get a couple. For a cook you pay from $75 up and for a maid $65. That’s already $140 out of your $400 household allowance. Then the cleaning bills out of that, as well as flowers, parking, luncheons, and the food bills.

“If you have a party you might as well resign yourself to the fact that you can’t entertain say 18 people for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for less than $50. Having a party these days usually shrinks down to having four extra for dinner.

“Meanwhile you keep two servants which almost equals no entertainment and certainly effectively stops you from being the latest, tick in fashion. You let down the hems of your old dresses instead. And despite that you’re always in red in your accounts.”

So the conclusions after all these conversations are these:

1. The majority of people are making more money today than in 1939.

2. The larger incomes buy less than the lower prewar salaries.

3. Lower-income groups try to balance the budget by cutting down on the quality of food bought; the middle classes save on domestic help, travel and cultural amenities; the highest groups cut down on entertainment and luxury wearing apparel.

Everywhere, whatever their pay, people are actually feeling the smaller buying power of money. Yet most housewives plan increasingly betterbalanced diets for their families, even while cutting down on the quality of foodstuffs bought. Where in 1939 buying was done without much informed thought, it now appears to have a background of sound planning. However, in no income group, among the housewives budgeting their marketing and clothes buying, does there appear to be a margin for saving.

This is rather an odd state of affairs because in most strata there seems to be a better standard of living. Perhaps this new standard which has crept in, apparently unnoticed, is part of the factor that soaks up the difference between incomes now and in 1939. ★