Is "Adulting" Getting Harder?

I’ve come across a ton of content lately seeking to prove how unfair it is to be a working person (and especially a young one) in 2019. Average wages appear to be stagnant or falling, while the costs of goods like real estate, vehicles and university education are going up. The narrative is that the glory days of economic abundance are over. We now live at the whim of rent seekers in an oppressive economy with very little room for growth, especially for those in the lower and middle classes.

I’ve always disliked this narrative. It seems to align well with the nauseating CNN/Fox News second-year-syndrome diagnoses that plague our modern airwaves. “Everything is a problem and we’re helpless to solve it.”

Although no system is perfect and challenges are always present, this economic pessimism is unwarranted. One piece of evidence is how much cheaper the basic goods for survival (such as food) have become. The article attached explains how a century ago, working class people had to work 2.45 hours to buy a dozen eggs, while an equivalent amount of eggs requires only 0.1 hours in 2019, a -96% decrease in labor required. Wealth isn’t simply about the level of our incomes or the value of our assets. It’s about the utility those incomes and assets can provide. This radical decrease in price (or increase in utility) of household goods like food prices point us to a world where wealth is created over time even when incomes are stagnant.

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It’s better to be in the bottom 25% today than it was to be in the top 10% 200 years ago. Even our middle and lower classes have abundant access food, mobile devices, air conditioning and refrigerators - luxuries even our richest ancestors of the 1800s would have killed to acquire.

May I for a moment suggest that the real inflation we’re seeing is an inflation of expectations? The boomers had it good. But it was no utopia. Fine dining, luxury cars and houses in the suburbs weren’t immediately granted to them upon graduation. The more I look around the more it appears these expectations are commonplace.

Wealth has much less to do with salary, currency and physical posessions than you’d expect. Wealth is about the real utility you can garner from your efforts. We live in a world where a part time job at Subway affords you more computing power than it took our parents to land on the moon. Whichever metrics you’re using to compare “how much better past generations had it” must be measured against the massive reduction in cost of the basics goods we need to survive and now have in abundance.

- Josh Olfert, CFP


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