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What Americans Are Really Paying for the Things They Buy Most

  1. Three Decades of Price Changes
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    Three Decades of Price Changes

    When you look at the price tags on consumer goods, it would seem that costs have skyrocketed over the last 30 years. If you adjust for inflation, however, the relative cost of items such as food, manufactured goods, and energy has fallen since 1980, while prices for other necessities such as housing, education, and health care have increased significantly. Moreover, consumers have taken to new services that carry bills they didn't have to pay in the 1980s: Payments for Internet access, cable TV, and cell phones together total more than $1,000 per year in bills for many Americans, according to a February report in The New York Times. Businessweek.com compared national average prices in 1980 and 2010 for 35 products and services that range from milk and bread to haircuts and doctor's visits. Comparative figures are based on numbers provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research's ACCRA Cost of Living Index, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, and other pricing-data sources.

    Click here to see which prices have increased at a slower pace than income and which have exceeded income growth.
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  2. Personal Computers
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    Personal Computers

    1981: $3,693 in 2009 dollars (*$1,565 in 1981 dollars)
    2009: **$710
    Change in real dollars: -80.8 percent

    As technology has improved, computer prices have declined sharply when you adjust for differences in quality. Prices for computers and peripheral equipment have dropped by over 90 percent since 1998, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The example above reflects the price decrease in real dollars, based on IBM's (IBM) first personal computer, which made its debut in 1981 with a price tag of $1,565. That compares to the average selling price of all computers and laptops in June 2009, according to market research firm NPD. Few people in the 1980s owned personal computers. Dramatic price drops have since made them accessible to millions.


    *Price for IBM 5150 in 1981; **Average price for all computers and laptops in June 2009 from NPD


    NOTE: Unless otherwise stated, nominal prices on all slides are based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's ACCRA Cost of Living Index reports for second-quarter 1980 and the same period in 2010. C2ER surveyed a greater number of cities in 2010 than in 1980. The 1980 and present-day prices for some items may come from different sources, but they refer to comparable products or brands. On all slides, the price change is based on the difference in real dollars, adjusted for inflation. The inflation-adjusted value was calculated using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' consumer price index. $1 in June 1980 had the same buying power as about $2.64 in June 2010.
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  3. Coffee
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    Coffee

    1 lb., ground roast

    1980: $8.38 in 2010 dollars ($3.18* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $3.70*
    Change in real dollars: -55.9 percent

    Caffeine addicts may groan about how much they spend on coffee but prices are effectively lower than they were in 1980, when looked at in real dollars. Perhaps that is why they drink so much of it. Starbucks (SBUX) sales increased from $93 million in fiscal 1992, the year the company went public, to $10.7 billion in fiscal 2010. Due to oversupply, world coffee prices hit a 30-year low in 2001, according to Oxfam.

    *1980 and 2010 prices from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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  4. Coca-Cola
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    Coca-Cola

    2-liter bottle

    1980: $3.35 in 2010 dollars ($1.27 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $1.51
    Change in real dollars: -54.9 percent

    Over the decades, soda has become a bargain, to the chagrin of health advocates. The price of a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola (KO) in nominal dollars has increased only slightly in the last three decades, to $1.51—less than the 1980 price in real dollars. Americans now drink almost 50 gallons of soda per person per year, compared to almost 34 gallons in 1980, according to a study by Texas A&M University.
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  5. Sugar
    5

    Sugar

    5 lbs.

    1980: $4.64 in 2010 dollars ($1.76 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $2.30
    Change in real dollars: -50.4 percent

    Sugar prices boomed in 1980, leading manufacturers to shift to high fructose corn syrup. U.S. net imports fell from 5 million tons in 1974 to 3 million tons in 1980 and down to 690,000 tons in 1987, according to a report from the 1997 International Sugar Conference. Soft demand led raw sugar prices to drop 86 percent in five years to a record low in 1985, according to the book, The International Sugar Trade.
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  6. Tennis balls
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    Tennis balls

    Can of three

    1980: $5.24 in 2010 dollars ($1.99* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $2.99*
    Change in real dollars: -43 percent

    Tennis balls wear out quickly and lose their bounce, so it's a good thing they are still cheap. A can of three Wilson tennis balls has increased by merely $1 in the last 30 years. Part of the reason: Manufacturing moved to less-expensive markets. Wilson Sporting Goods, for example, moved its tennis ball manufacturing to Thailand from South Carolina, according to a 2001 press release.

    *1980 and 2010 prices from Wilson Racquet Sports
    Wilson Sporting Goods, Inc.
  7. Bananas
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    Bananas

    1 lb.

    1980: $0.95 in 2010 dollars ($0.36 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $0.56
    Change in real dollars: -41 percent

    Bananas have stayed cheap in the U.S. because of lower transportation costs and the lack of tariffs and other restrictions on banana imports from supply areas such as Latin American and the Caribbean, according to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. The industry strategy has been to keep bananas cheap via economies of scale, reported businesspundit.com. Americans eat more bananas than apples or oranges.
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  8. Pizza
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    Pizza

    Large pie

    1980: $15.81 in 2010 dollars ($6* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $10.30
    Change in real dollars: -34.9 percent

    Gooey, cheesy slices of pizza are one of America's most popular foods. According to New York-based consumer research firm Packaged Facts, the average man, woman, and child in the U.S. annually consumes 23 lbs. of pizza. That may be because pizza provides an inexpensive meal option. This year, Pizza Hut (YUM) reduced the price of a large pie to $10, from $14, according to a release. Papa John's (PZZA) and Domino's (DPZ) also introduced promotional discounts.

    *1980 data from Pizza Hut
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  9. Ground beef
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    Ground beef

    1 lb.

    1980: $3.98 in 2010 dollars ($1.51 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $2.72
    Change in real dollars: -31.7 percent

    The average American consumes nearly 28 lbs. of ground beef per year, according to data from the American Meat Institute. Over the last 30 years, we've enjoyed hamburgers and meatballs at a relatively low cost, although U.S. retail prices for ground beef and bacon in August 2010 were the highest since the 1980s, and the cost of meat in 2011 is expected to rise faster than total food inflation, according to the U.S. Agriculture Dept.
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  10. Lettuce
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    Lettuce

    1 head

    1980: $1.90 in 2010 dollars ($0.72 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $1.35
    Change in real dollars: -28.9 percent

    Iceberg lettuce remains America's main salad green, although the growing popularity of romaine and leaf lettuce have caused per capita consumption of head lettuce to decrease to 17 lbs. in 2008, from 21 lbs. in 2005, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. U.S. lettuce prices are vulnerable to supply changes—in December 2009, for example, the price of iceberg lettuce in New York increased from $0.89 cents to $2.49, due to a bad growing season in California, reported International Supermarket News.
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  11. Frying chicken
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    Frying chicken

    Whole, per lb.

    1980: $1.56 in 2010 dollars ($0.59 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $1.15
    Change in real dollars: -26 percent

    Research contending that chicken is a relatively healthy meat, coupled with the growth of chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (YUM) and Church's Chicken during the 1970s, helped boost U.S. consumption, according to a report by HighBeam Business. In 1980, there was new demand when McDonald's (MCD) introduced the Chicken McNugget in test markets. Per capita consumption of chicken (including processed chicken) has doubled to 65.1 lbs. in 2009, from 32.7 lbs. in 1980, according to the U.S. Agriculture Dept., making it the country's most popular meat, followed by beef.
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  12. Eggs
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    Eggs

    1 dozen

    1980: $1.98 in 2010 dollars ($0.75 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $1.52
    Change in real dollars: -23.1 percent

    Egg consumption in the U.S. declined for 40 years until the 1990s, according to the USDA. The record high in per capita consumption came in 1945, at 403 eggs. In 2009, Americans ate an average of 248 eggs per person. While people eat fewer shell eggs, they are consuming more egg products in processed foods.
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  13. Orange juice, frozen
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    Orange juice, frozen

    Per can

    1980: $3.16 in 2010 dollars ($1.20* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $2.50/can*
    Change in real dollars: -21 percent

    Most consumers today prefer ready-to-drink juice, but frozen varieties remain convenient and inexpensive, with a long shelf life. Starting in the mid-1980s, ready-to-drink juice grew in popularity, eventually capturing 75 percent of the market, reported Investopedia. Following its success with frozen orange juice concentrate, Minute Maid (KO) introduced a ready-to-drink product in 1973, according to the company.

    *1980 and 2010 prices from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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  14. Car-tire balancing
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    Car-tire balancing

    Two tires

    1980: $24.96 in 2010 dollars ($9.47 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $20.58*
    Change in real dollars: -17.5 percent

    Drivers hate being talked into unnecessary repairs at auto shops, but the cost of basic services such as balancing tires remains slightly below 1980 levels in real dollars. What might be boosting maintenance costs for new car owners are repairs and updates to such features as built-in GPS systems and DVD players.

    *2010 price based on rate for one tire, multiplied by two
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  15. Household energy consumption
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    Household energy consumption

    Monthly bill

    1980: $209.71 in 2010 dollars ($79.57 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $174.55
    Change in real dollars: -16.8 percent

    Home energy bills—which reflect the cost of electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and other forms of energy—have decreased in real terms over the past 30 years. Total residential energy consumption in the U.S. has increased from 15,760 trillion Btu in 1980 to 21,207 trillion Btu in 2009, due in part to a dramatic increase in electricity use for cooling in the summer. Real retail electricity prices declined through the 1960s, increased through the 1970s and mid-'80s, and decreased until about five years ago, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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  16. Gasoline
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    Gasoline

    1 gal., unleaded

    1980: $3.32 in 2010 dollars, ($1.26 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $2.83
    Change in real dollars: -14.8 percent

    It never gets easier to fork over $40 at the gas station, but the U.S. remains one of the cheaper places in the world to fill a tank because government taxes on gasoline are so low, reported CNN (TWX) in July 2008. Gas prices increased through 1980, then fell back below $1 per gallon in the late 1980s and 1990s, according to BLS data. While the relative price of gas is lower now than in 1980, people also drive more: Average miles traveled annually per vehicle was 8,813 miles in 1980 and 11,788 miles in 2008, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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  17. Potato chips
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    Potato chips

    16-oz. bag

    1980: $5.27 in 2010 dollars ($2* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $4.57*
    Change in real dollars: -13.3 percent

    Americans love potato chips: In 2009, U.S. consumers spent $7.1 billion on the salty snack, reported sciencenews.org. At an average cost of $4.57, that would mean more than 1.5 billion 16-oz. bags sold. Manufacturers have also managed to keep kid-size bags on grocers' shelves for $0.25 apiece.

    *1980 and 2010 prices from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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  18. Ice cream
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    Ice cream

    Half gal.

    1980: $4.53 in 2010 dollars ($1.72* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $4.31*
    Change in real dollars: -4.9 percent

    While per capita ice cream consumption has never regained its 1946 high of 23 lbs. per person, the average American consumed 21 lbs. of ice cream in 2008, reported agmrc.org, citing USDA data. Vanilla remains the most popular flavor, followed by chocolate, and then by cookies and cream.

    *1980 and 2010 prices from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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  19. Movie theater ticket
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    Movie theater ticket

    1 adult

    1980: $8.72 in 2010 dollars ($3.31 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $8.82
    Change in real dollars: +1.1 percent

    The average cost per ticket at theaters is $8.82 nationwide (on par with 1980 prices in real dollars). It is far costlier in some places. New York theaters can charge as much as $13 per ticket—$17 for a 3D movie. Bring an additional $10 if you want to treat yourself to soda and popcorn.
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  20. Bread
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    Bread

    Per loaf

    1980: $1.34 in 2010 dollars ($0.51 in 1980 prices)
    2010: $1.39
    Change in real dollars: +3.4 percent

    We're not talking about artisan breads or herb-infused foccacia. The ACCRA Cost of Living Index rates bread prices by the cost of the loaf fetching the "lowest price" at the grocery store. Fortunately for toast-crunching, sandwich-loving Americans, a standard loaf in 2010 costs about as many real dollars as it did in 1980.
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  21. Home price
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    Home price

    1980: $166,946 in 2010 dollars ($64,200* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $172,600*
    Change in real dollars: +3.4 percent

    Median home prices in 2006 were about 40 percent above 1980 levels (inflation adjusted), based on data from the National Association of Realtors. That gap has since narrowed significantly with the drop in home values. According to NAR: "From 1968 through 2009, even with periods of double-digit inflation and several years of price declines that begin in 2007, the national average annual price gain was 5.5 percent." Mortgage rates have decreased to about 5 percent today, from over 13 percent in 1980, according to historical data from Freddie Mac on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages.

    *September 1980 and September 2010 median prices for existing single-family homes from the National Association of Realtors
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  22. Household income
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    Household income

    1980: $46,109 in 2009 dollars ($17,710* in 1980 dollars)
    2009: $49,777*
    Change in real dollars: +8 percent

    Median household income has nearly tripled in nominal value since 1980; in constant dollars the gain was about 8 percent. Real prices for many items stayed level or declined from 1980 to 2010. Consumers spent more, however, on such big items as college tuition and health care.

    *1980 and 2009 data from U.S. Census Bureau. Estimates on 2010 median household income were not available by time of publication
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  23. Man's haircut
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    Man's haircut

    1980: $12.15 in 2010 dollars ($4.61 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $13.18
    Change in real dollars: +8.5 percent

    Men's haircuts may cost more now than in 1980, but that doesn't mean barbers are getting rich: In 2009, the median salary for barbers in the U.S. was $24,160, only about 30.4 percent more than 1999's $18,530 (in nominal dollars), according to BLS data.
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  24. Phone, residential landline
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    Phone, residential landline

    Monthly bill

    1980: $24.46 in 2010 dollars ($9.28 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $26.87
    Change in real dollars: +9.9 percent

    For years analysts have been forecasting the death of the residential landline. As the cost of having one increases and consumers take on additional fees for mobile phones, many might find too little value in these corded devices to continue paying that monthly bill.
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  25. Apartment rental
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    Apartment rental

    1 month

    1980: $712 in 2010 dollars ($270 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $815/month
    Change in real dollars: +14.5 percent

    While New York State gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is Too Damn High party did not win the election, was he on to something about the cost of housing? The average cost to rent nationwide has tripled since 1980, with the jump most severe in major cities. In Manhattan, for example, the average rate has jumped about 410 percent, to $2,487 in 2010, from $488 (in nominal dollars) in 1980, according to the ACCRA Cost of Living Index.
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  26. Dry cleaning
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    Dry cleaning

    Two-piece suit

    1980: $9.25 in 2010 dollars ($3.51 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $10.60
    Change in real dollars: +14.6 percent

    Dry cleaning is a $10 billion a year industry, according to estimates on usdrycleaning.com. The business is sensitive to changes in energy costs. According to Madison Gas and Electric (MGEE) in Madison, Wisc., energy has generally represented about 6 percent to 18 percent of total operating costs for U.S. dry cleaners, although rising energy prices may have boosted the rate to as much as 25 percent.
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  27. New car
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    New car

    1980: $19,790 in 2008 dollars ($7,574* in 1980 dollars)
    2008: $23,051*
    Change in real dollars: +16.5 percent

    After a house, a new car remains one of the biggest purchases most Americans make. According to the Transportation Energy Data Book, the cost of a new car in 2008 is actually close to the average price in 1916, adjusted for inflation. Looking at 2008 constant dollars since 1914, average new car prices were lowest in 1940 ($11,941) and have gradually declined since reaching a peak in 1998 ($26,898).

    *Data from the Transportation Energy Data Book by the Center for Transportation Analysis at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 1980 value calculated from 2008 dollars
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  28. New York City subway fare
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    New York City subway fare

    1 ride

    1980: $1.32 in 2010 dollars ($0.50* in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $2.25/ride*
    Change in real dollars: +70.7 percent

    Fares have increased by 350 percent over 1980 rates, to $2.25, but the Metropolitan Transportation Authority still loses money and relies heavily on subsidies from New York City and New York State to operate. New Yorkers are bracing for further fare increases, starting Dec. 30, which will bring the cost of a one-way ticket to $2.50 and that of a monthly pass to $104.

    *1980 and 2010 data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
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  29. Woman's shampoo, cut, and blow-dry
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    Woman's shampoo, cut, and blow-dry

    1980: $17.29 in 2010 dollars ($6.56 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $31.95
    Change in real dollars: +84.8 percent

    While barbershops are charging men about 8.5 percent more, women's salons have made steeper increases. Accordingly, hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists have seen their salaries increase more than barbers', jumping by 34.7 percent (in nominal dollars) to $23,330 from 1999 to 2009, according to BLS data.
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  30. Dental care
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    Dental care

    Cleaning and inspection

    1980: $53.61 in 2010 dollars, ($20.34 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $108.86*
    Change in real dollars: +103.1 percent

    Americans are paying more for dental cleaning, a trend that's expected to continue. According to a February report from the Pew Center on the States, total annual spending for dental care in the U.S. is expected to increase 58 percent from 2009 to 2018, from $101.9 billion to $161.4 billion, reported the Fiscal Times.

    *2010 price is adjusted according to fourth-quarter 2004 rates for cleaning and inspection because the 2010 survey included only dental cleaning
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  31. Doctor's visit
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    Doctor's visit

    1980: $41.27 in 2010 dollars ($15.66 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $89.63
    Change in real dollars: +117.2 percent

    Consumers saw a large increase in health-care costs from 1980 to 2010. The average price of a routine doctor's examination jumped by 117.2 percent in real dollars over the 30-year period. Among the factors contributing to higher health-care costs are new medical technology and increased use of services. While doctors are paid well—general practitioners earned an average $160,530 in 2009, according to BLS data—their salaries are actually decreasing in real dollar terms, according to a study by the Center for Studying Health System Change
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  32. College tuition
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    College tuition

    Annual tuition and room and board

    1980: $9,142 in 2008 dollars ($3,499* in 1980 dollars)
    2008: $20,435/year*
    Change in real dollars: +123.5 percent

    While tuition prices have been rising for decades, College Board figures show that the rate of increase has been more severe in the past 10 years. Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities have grown by an average annual rate of 5.6 percent above the pace of general inflation, reported Businessweek.com. College seniors who graduated in 2009 carried an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, according to projectonstudentdebt.org, up 6 percent year-on-year. Still, returns on education have also increased dramatically in recent decades: The gap between the average college graduate's earnings and those of a high school graduate has widened, according to Barry Bosworth, senior fellow of economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

    * National Center for Education Statistics: Tuition plus room and board at all four-year institutions
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  33. National health expenditures
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    National health expenditures

    Dollars spent per capita

    1980: $2,874 in 2008 dollars ($1,100 per capita* in 1980 dollars)
    2008: $7,681 per capita*
    Change in real dollars: +167.2 percent

    Spending on health care—by private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as out-of-pocket by consumers—has skyrocketed. From 1980 to 2008, national health care spending per capita jumped 167.2 percent, according to data from the U.S. Health and Human Services Dept. In that time, out-of-pocket payments (not including health insurance premiums) for personal health care jumped to $912 dollars per capita, from $667 (2008 dollars). Since 1999, average annual premiums have increased 75 percent in real dollars, to $5,049, according to data from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The foundation notes the roles played by technology, the increased use of prescription drugs, longer life spans, an aging population, and administrative costs in heightening spending.

    *Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Annual health spending (including hospital care, physician services, nursing home care, and so forth) by private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, out-of-pocket spending, etc.
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  34. Cigarettes
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    Cigarettes

    Carton (10 packs)

    1980: $14.02 in 2010 dollars ($5.32 in 1980 dollars)
    2010: $55.10*
    Change in real dollars: +293 percent

    Cigarette prices are largely controlled by companies' price-setting decisions, with taxes playing a big role, too, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. From 1970 to 2006, the federal tax on cigarettes increased from $0.08 to $0.39 cents per pack and the average state cigarette tax increased from $0.10 to $1.07 per pack. Taxes have brought the price of a pack of cigarettes to about $11 in New York, according to a June article in The New York Times. Quitting a pack-a-day habit could help New Yorkers live longer and save them over $2,011 per year.

    *2010 price, according to Tobacco-Free Kids
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