Is inflation, cost of living really worse than the 1980s?

Jun 28, 2023, 1:00 PM

Inflation, cost of living has been driven, in part, by the prices of groceries and other daily nece...

(Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite a low unemployment rate, Americans are still feeling the pinch of inflation, cost of living and general fiscal pain. It leads to the question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” That’s what former President Ronald Reagan famously asked during a presidential debate in 1980.

Let’s broaden that question beyond one presidency. In light of the inflationary struggles the world has experienced in the last year, are we better off now than we were 40 years ago? In the 1980s?

“Yes, as a society, I believe we are,” said Shane Stewart, a certified financial planner with DMBA. “When you take all things into consideration and look at what an average family could afford in 1985, that family is better off today than they would have been back then.”


Inflation, cost of living is changing our lives

In the 1980s, a family having two cars was not as common as it is today. A family having two jobs was more of a rarity. Now for many people, as Stewart explained, it feels like a necessity.

“The lifestyle perception has jumped because now we’re saying, ‘Well, I need two jobs in order to keep that thriving lifestyle rather than a surviving lifestyle’.”

Difference between inflation, cost of living and cost of thriving

The cost of living is just covering the bases. It’s the cost of rent, food and transportation. Stewart said that the so-called “cost of thriving” is more about luxuries, like travel.

“I see the younger generation, young families today, traveling,” Stewart said. “I’m thinking, when I was their age, I didn’t really travel much. I didn’t have the money.”

So, the concept of thriving today requires more money to do more things than it did two generations ago.

Everybody says ‘I’m worse off’

When you ask people if they’re doing better today than they were four years or forty years ago, most of them will say, “No.”

“Generation after generation will always believe they’re not doing better than they were even a year ago,” Stewart explained. “That’s why Ronald Reagan’s question was such a brilliant political question. The gut answer for everyone is, ‘No. I’m not’.”

But perception does not always match reality.

“Statistically, you are probably better off,” Stewart said, “but you just don’t feel like you’re better off.”

He called it the law of scarcity. 

“Where you always feel like you don’t quite have everything you want or need, when, in fact, you might,” Stewart said. 

Stewart says he tries to get people to focus on the “law of sufficiency”. In this law, the question you ask is, “Do you have enough?”

“The human brain just doesn’t work that way,” said Stewart. “It says, ‘Well, I have some good things, but I don’t have enough’.”

Every generation complains about inflation, cost of living

One of the most common complaints people voice today is about inflation. They can’t afford eggs, gas or a car. Is this a unique challenge for us in 2023?

“No,” said Stewart. “Every generation faces the fear of inflation. . . This isn’t much different than we’ve seen in other years.”

There is a basic misconception about inflation.

“A healthy economy is inflated, meaning it grows,” said Stewart. “It’s just like the tire on your car. It needs to be properly inflated.”

If the economy is underinflated, like your tire, it’s hard on the system. If it’s properly inflated, it runs beautifully. “The problem is hyperinflation or overinflation,” Stewart said. “If it grows too quickly, it’s hard to stop, and then everything becomes very expensive.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Business + Economy

Customers wait in line for Starbucks, the chain just announced new value meal options...

Mariah Maynes

Starbucks joins value meal race with new ‘Pairings’ options

Like its competitors, Starbucks is adding a value meal to boost sales. The coffee chain is calling them "Pairings."

10 hours ago

FILE: A TRAX vehicle wrapped in Olympic imagery during a visit of the International Olympic Committ...

Tammy Kikuchi

Organizers reveal 2034 Olympics budget, total comes in slightly less than 2002

Utah hopes to be named as the host city for the 2034 games, and budget planning is already underway.

2 days ago

An employer and employee shaking hands. Jobs accelerated in May, but is that a good or bad thing?...

Kennedy Camarena

Jobs accelerated in May; why that’s a bad thing

Jobs have accelerated for the month of May. While most think that is a good thing, there might be a reason it isn't.

6 days ago

SEC to close Salt Lake City office...

Collin Leonard,

SEC to close Salt Lake office after ‘gross abuse of power’ in Utah crypto case

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to close Salt Lake City office just days after a judge dismissed a cases because of prosecutorial misconduct.

7 days ago

NHL logo shown, jazz owner ryan smith is looking for ideas for name for a possible utah nhl team...

Adam Small

Utah’s NHL team bringing new fans to the Delta Center

More than 34,000 deposits have already been made to see Utah's NHL team play during its inaugural season.

8 days ago

Dominion Energy6 has been aquired by Enbridge Gas, and will now be known as Enbridge Gas Utah....

Emma Keddington

Dominion Energy joins Enbridge Gas, changes name

Dominion Energy promised the transition would be "seamless" for existing customers.

8 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...


Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Is inflation, cost of living really worse than the 1980s?