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food prices 

As you can see in the Wages and Hours tab, construction workers employed by Duke were largely underpaid compared to union standards, most likely due to lack of unionization and a cheaper cost of living in Durham. The average laborer brought home $10.26 per week, the average electrician $31.70, the average painter $13.60, and the average carpenter $23.76. Imagine you are in one of those professions—what could you afford on that salary? 




To gain a better perspective on these prices (and the cost of living), let’s put ourselves in the work boots of someone we know worked in Duke construction: Norwood Mack, a black laborer. (We chose him because he’s one of the few common laborers who appears in the ledgers often—34 times, exactly—and has 1930 Census data available.) If you’re Norwood Mack, you’re 25 and married, with a daughter only months old. Rent, in total, is $14/month. During the month of June in 1930, you’re working between 40 and 60 hours/week as a “laborer” for 25 cents/hour. This month was pretty good – you made $55.63 in total. Minus rent, you have $31.63 left. (Adjusting for inflation, that’s $473.67.)


Look at the food prices below and see if you can stretch that to feed a family of three. (You’re the only one with income.) And remember, you have no health insurance and still need to pay for monthly utilities. (Don’t forget clothing, baby supplies, transportation, and the unexpected emergency.)

These statistics are gathered from December 1929 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. One table in the journal shows food prices in a sample of American cities from 1928-1929. The graphs below show food prices from October 15, 1929. Since Durham was not included in the issue, Mobile and Charleston were chosen as comparable cities since they are both Southern cities with similar Census-recorded populations in 1930. Durham had a population of 52,037 in 1930. 

Mobile Population 1930: 68,202

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Mobile, Alabama
(Hover over with mouse to see graph)

Charleston Population 1930: 62,265

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Charleston, South Carolina
(Hover over with mouse to see graph)

Work Cited

"Wholesale and Retail Prices." Monthly Labor Review 29, no. 6 (1929): 195-221.

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