It's Easter weekend and time to do an annual update on the falling inflation-adjusted price of eggs over the last 120 years or so. The chart below shows the real, inflation-adjusted wholesale price of eggs (per dozen in 2014 dollars), annually back to 1890. The wholesale price for eggs today (about $1.12 per dozen) is 85% cheaper than the price a century ago when the wholesale price was as high as $8.20 per dozen in 1909 measured in today's dollars. For those who think the decades of the 1950s and 1960s were the "golden age of the middle class," consumers in those years paid inflation-adjusted prices for eggs that were two to four times higher than the prices over the last decade of "middle class stagnation and decline."
And it's not just egg prices that have fallen over the last 100 years - most food products have gotten increasingly more affordable over time relative to other goods and services, and relative to our incomes. The bottom chart above shows that household spending on food (both at home and away from home) has never been more affordable as a share of our disposable income than in the last decade based on USDA data (Table 7) through 2012. Food expenditures as a percent of disposable income were in double-digits for the entire 20th century, and were above 20% for most of the 1929-1952 period. It's only been since 2000 that spending on food has fallen to about 10% of disposable income, and it's been between 9.5% and 10% for the last decade. During the so-called "golden age of the middle class" in the 1950s, American households spent roughly twice as much of their take-home pay to feed themselves and their families compared to the last decade of "middle class stagnation."
Bottom Line: Eggs and most of our food products have gotten increasingly more affordable over time, thanks to advances in farming and food processing technologies, spectacular increases in yields for corn, wheat and soybeans, increasing milk production per cow, lower transportation costs, and greater overall food supply chain efficiencies. The price you're paying for eggs today at Easter time is very likely only a fraction of the price your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents paid in decades past. As a share of disposable income, food in the US has never been more affordable than in the last decade, and the average middle-class American has never been better off than today when it comes to the affordability of one of life's basics - food.