Skip to main content

Government and the Consumer

In 1935, the average expenditure per person in the United States was $1273. Food accounted for more than one-third of total spending, making it the largest component of spending by 1996-97, it had dropped to about 16%. Housing accounted for about one-third of consumer spending in 1935; it has risen to almost 40%. It is the only area where the percentage of consumer spending has increased. The prevalent attitude in 1935 was that what the individual did not have, they did not need. Choices for the consumer were very limited. In 1931, the Retail Dry Goods Association chose manila brown, cricket green, rubystone red, and admiralty blue as the color dyes available for retail clothing manufactures to use. Colors were coordinated with the Associated Dress Industries of America. Color standardization was seen as a way to reduce waste. Style arbitrators chose colors to run in cycles - first blue, then green, gray, beige, red, and brown. In 1929, Earnest Calkins, an advertising executive said " Those who are subjected to this control of taste and judgment, which to many would seem probably intolerable, are still the defenders of the mythical individualism which is supposed to govern American life."

Average consumption selected time periods ( In thousands) 1935 -1936 1996-1997
Current consumption $1273 $28,935
Food 428 4681
Housing 411 10741
Apparel and service 133 1518
Transportation 118 6306
Health care 56 1638
Entertainment 42 1709
Personal care 26 418
Tobacco 24 259
Alcoholic beverages - 292
Education 13 406
Reading 14 159
Other items 8 808

What trends do you note about consumption? Also can you explain the increases in specific product areas?

Click on this link to look at the New Jersey Consumer Protection agency

Respond to the Following Questions

Now more than ever, Americans seem to be greatly influenced by brand names and logos. If an item does not have the right logo, nothing else seems to matter. In your opinion, why is this so? Do you choose items based on brand names? How do certain brands become the "in" style? Does this way of buying limit our choices as consumers and cause us to spend more?


Survey the class to develop a list of brand names. List reasons for the popularity of these brands and discuss the idea that consumers are more influenced by cultural values or mores than quality or practicality.