Increase in hourly wages in the US during the Spanish Flu Pandemic 1900-1928

Demobilization following the First World War saw millions of soldiers return to their home countries from the trenches, and in doing so, they brought with them another wave of the deadliest and far-reaching pandemic of all time. As the H1N1 influenza virus, known as the Spanish Flu, spread across the world and infected between one third and a quarter of the global population, it impacted all areas of society. One such impact was on workers' wages, as the labor shortage drove up the demand for skilled workers, which then increased wages. In the United States, wages had already increased due to the shortage of workers caused by the war, however the trend increased further in the two or three years after the war, despite the return of so many personnel from overseas.

In the first fifteen years of the twentieth century, wages across the shown industries had increased gradually and steadily in line with inflation, with the hourly wage in manufacturing increasing from roughly 15 cents per hour to 21 cents per hour in this period. Between 1915 and 1921 or 1921 however, the hourly rate more than doubled across most of these industries, with the hourly wage in manufacturing increasing from 21 cents per hour in 1915 to 56 cents per hour in 1920. Although manufacturing wages were the lowest among those shown here, the trend was similar across even the highest paying trades, with hourly wages in the building trade increasing from 57 cents per hour in 1915 to one dollar and eight cents in 1921. The averages of almost all these trades decreased again in 1922, before plateauing or increasing at a slower rate throughout the late 1920s. Other factors, such as the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression, make comparing this data with wages in later decades more difficult, but it does give some insight into the economic effects of pandemics in history.

Impact of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 on hourly wages in select industries in the United States from 1900 to 1928

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Release date

March 2020


United States

Survey time period

1900 to 1928

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Statistics on "Average wage and salary in the U.S."

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