Wages and Prices During the Antebellum Period: A Survey and New Evidence
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 19
The purpose of this paper is to survey recent research on wages and prices in the united States before the civil War. The basic conclusion is that, while much progress has been made in documenting regional, temporal and occupational differentials, further insights will require a large amount of new evidence, particularly on retail prices. The paper also uses existing regional data on wholesale prices to construct new regional indices of real wages for artisans and unskilled labor from 1821 to 1856. The new indices suggest that real wage growth was less than previously thought in the 1930s and that growth was, by comparison with later periods in American history, very erratic in the short-run. The erratic nature of real wage growth was a consequence of persistent effects of price and real shocks.