Middle-Class Stagnation Case-Study: The Honda Civic

on Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Behold, the 1978 Honda Civic four-door:

This car had 60 horsepower and could go from 0-60 mph in 14.3 seconds flat! It had no air conditioning, no power anything, no CD player (or tape deck), a manual four-speed transmission, and was rated to get 23mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway. It had no catalytic converter. It weighed 1,500 lbs and it didn't have airbags. The NHTSA gave it a one star crash test rating, and they tended to rust dangerously within the first three years. No anti-lock brakes. The average worker in 1978 earned $5.40 per hour, and the base price for this car was $4,189. It would take the average person about 776 hours, about five months of full-time work, to earn one of these bad boys. And they were selling like hotcakes because they burned the least fuel of any car on the market.

Let's fast-forward to the modern version of the Honda Civic, and see just how stagnant the American middle class has become:

Power windows, remote entry with power locks, anti-lock brakes (ABS), six airbags and a five star crash test rating. Accelerates to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds with its 140 horsepower engine. Five speed transmission. CD player. Tire pressure monitors. Weighs 2600 lbs and gets 26/34mpg. This car is much safer, burns less fuel, pollutes much less, is about twice as fast, won't rust and its major parts are guaranteed for 60,000 miles. Today the average worker can purchase this car with 670 hours of labor, and its life expectancy is probably about double that of the first generation version with less maintenance and less repairs. A car that is much better all-around take less over 100 hours less labor to earn for the average modern American worker. In terms of automobiles, it seems that the middle class is doing much better than it was in 1978.