In the new issue of CommonWealth, I look at how spending habits have changed over the past century. The full article is here. Below is an excerpt:
A long line at JP Licks is an inconvenience, but it may also signal a turning point in Boston’s spending habits. While the rest of the country spends less and less on food, we’ve started a reverse trend, devoting more of our paychecks to eating in and dining out—which may explain the recent proliferation of high-end restaurants, Whole Foods supermarkets, and premium ice-cream shops in the area.
But across America, and even in Boston until quite recently, the percentage of an average household’s income spent on food has steadily declined. This trend reflects “improved living standards,” according to the authors of a recent report from the US Department of Labor, titled 100 Years of US Consumer Spending: Data for the Nation, New York City, and Boston. The report is generally as dry as toast, but it is full of tidbits that demonstrate how much the Hub has changed over the years, and how it was, and is, different than the rest of the nation.
Take, for example, my favorite sentence in the 71-page report, referring to present-day spending habits: “In buying groceries, New Yorkers allocated more for meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, cereal, and baked goods than did Bostonians, who spent more on…dairy products.” (Ellipses added because the US Department of Labor would never pause for comic effect.) In other words, we’re pigs when it comes to ice cream. We even insist on turning clam chowder into a dairy product.