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Out of the Morgue
Imagining the future in 1957
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In 1957, Americans were both optimistic about what the future held, but also uncertain about the fast pace of improvements in technology. Here, a 1957 editorial page cartoon from an edition of The Great Bend Daily Tribune from this week. - photo by Tribune file image

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

This week, the Great Bend Daily Tribune ran a feature by New York Associated Press writer Joy Miller, “Stick around; the 21st century may be lively.” So, this week, we look back at how in 2957, American’s looked ahead to the future. (We’ve also looked up some modern-day statistics along the way to help shed light on how things actually went down.)

Stick around for the 21st century. You won’t want to miss it.
Space adventurers may be grabbing the headlines then -- there will always be newspapers but people still will be pretty much people, with their interests centered in home, family and enough for a down payment on the latest indesipensable electronic miracle.
The reason you won’t want to pass up the 21st century is bound up in some amazing statistics in a book called “U.S.A. in New Dimensions,” being published July 15.
Viewing with pardonable pride the incredible size and power of America’s productive might, the book points out that if present rates continue, in another century we’ll be able to produce as much in one seven-hour day as we do now in a 40-hour work week.

(According to The Economic Policy Institute, we are actually seven times more productive today.)

To the 21st century worker our 45-hour week will likely seem as oppressive as we consider the 70-hour week of 1850.
There’s no doubt he will have a staggering amount of leisure time for pursuing recreation and new knowledge. And the piles of goods he will be able to manufacture at that accelerated rate could banish want from the planet.
The opportunities seem unlimited, and so do the problems.
Watching society meet the challenge offered by more abundance for less work could be as exciting as hurtling through space in search of unknown worlds. Neither course would be charted. But mankind’s fate might depend in the long run more on adjustment than adventure.
Barring major depression or war, America’s future will be shaped by the same economic system that today is the strongest and most productive in history.
Compare your great grandfather’s life in 1850 with ours today, keeping in mind these facts:
In 1850 muscle power of animals and humans accounted for almost two-thirds of the total workload. Today nearly 99 percent is done by machine.
In 1950 our net output of goods and services was 25 times what it was in 1850. The job was done with only eight times as many workers. Allowing for the shorter workweek -- 40 hours instead of 70 -- there was nearly a sixfold increase in productivity.
If this rate of increase continues, the production potential of the next century is almost unbelievable.
And the worker’s income should be gratifyingly higher. The book says flatly that by 1960 an average family income of more than $6,000 a year is possible. Still greater rises are likely in years ahead.

(According to The Economic Policy Institute, hourly compensation kept pace with productivity up until 1973. Then, a gap between compensation and productivity appeared, and has been growing steadily ever since. The percentage increase in compensation since 1973 to 2015 has only gone up 11.2 percent, and actually dropped below 1973 levels for several years in the 1980s and 1990s.)

What will we be like on that Dec. 31 when the hands of the solar-powered clocks point to midnight and we greet the new century with the probably indestructible “Auld Lang Syne?”
One thing is pretty certain: Ther’ll be a lot more of us. In 1960 the U.S. population should be around 177 million, a hefty leap from the 153 million of 1850. With the birth rate going up and the death rate going down, the wide open spaces are destined to fill up like Main Street on Saturday night.

(According to the U.S. Census Bureau, on July 12, 2017, the U.S. population reached 325,426,262 with a net gain of one new person every 12 seconds.)

More and livelier senior citizens will be around. Fifty years ago a white male child could expect to celebrate his 48th birthday. His 49th wasn’t so certain. Today his life expectancy is nearly 67 years. As for the fragile females who have always have worn better, it’s more than 72. And in another 50 years...

(According to a December 2016 report by National Public Radio concerning life expectancy, the average American man in 2015 could expect to live to age 76.3. For women, the average life expectancy was 81.2 years. With health insurance a controversial topic in today’s climate, there are many contradictory reports about where we will be in the next 10 years.)

The vital statistics columns will probably take on new length as marriage and divorce rates climb. Today more people, proportionately, are married than ever before in history. And married earlier too. Maybe the 21st century dictionaries will mark the word “spinster” as “archaic.”
Divorces are up to 25 percent of the number of marriages from five percent in the 1880s. Since most divorced people remarry, this not only boosts the marriage figures but indicates what an eternally optimistic people we are.
(According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the divorce rate peaked in 1980 at 52 percent, and has hovered just below that since. But, the census suspended collection and publication of detailed marriage and divorce statistics in 1996. Marriage rates have declined also. In 1957, 70 percent of those in their 20s were married, while today, only 25 percent in that age group marry. Also, 25 percent of people in all age groups say marriage is becoming obsolete.)

Here are some other trends to ponder in relation to the new century:
Right now we have the highest standard of living ever achieved by a great population and indications are it will keep on rising.
Family size should be more uniform in the future. The typical family will have two or three children born fairly close together and early in marriage.
Or population’s movement westward, especially to the pacific and mountain states, and from sparsely settled farm states to urban-industrial regions seems likely to continue.
Families and individuals are shifting from lower income ranges into higher. The gap is narrowing between the rich and the poor.

(According to several reports we browsed, the gap has been getting bigger since the 1980s, though the exact amount is unclear.)

We are changing our eating habits, consuming less of the “cheap and filling” starchy foods and more of meat, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables. Although this is a healthful trend, obesity is our No. 1 nutrition problem with an estimated one-fourth of our adults enough eoverweight to damage their health.

(According to the USDA, since the mid-1990s, consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, met and milk have gone down for many groups due to increasing prevalence of food deserts. Also, according to the CDC, over 36 percent of adults today are obesity.)

Less of the average dollar is being spent on apparel and appearance. We keep well-dressed and well-groomed for less money because of modern production efficiency, more casual styles, lower-priced synthetic fabrics.
School attendance has more than doubled in the last 50 years. But more than one out of 10 fails to finish grade school. And the need for more schools and teachers increases with the population rise.
It used to be a chicken in every pot but now it’s a car in every garage and by the next century, it may be a copter in every home hangar. Right now two out of three Americans own automobiles.

(According to a 2011 Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association report, there were only 10,420 helicopters registered by individuals in the United States.)

We’re the most peripatetic people on earth. In 1953, for example, altogether we traveled half a trillion miles. And the urge grows, with the emphasis on car and plane favored means of conveyance.
More than half the people in the United States are now church members, giving $1,296,000,000 in 1952, compared with 300 million in 1909. This may look increasingly devout, but the fact is, the contributions amount to a smaller percentage of incomes: one percent in 1909 to 0.6 in 1952.
These statistics pointing perhaps prophetically to the future, don’t include some of our most positive advances: in medicine, farming, automation.
Our vast productive plant is a flexible man made resource which, barring atomic devastation, will prove equal to any imaginable need. Twenty-first century, here we come.