On Bootstraps

Time for your annual reminder that, according to A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit makes 15 shillings a week. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $530.27/wk, $27,574/yr, or $13.50/hr.

Most Americans on minimum wage earn less than a Dickensian allegory for destitution.


Lots of comments calling the math into question. I had some fun trying to understand the objections and learned a few things. We are dealing with 15 shillings a week or 780 shillings a year. There are 20 shillings in a pound so that’s £39 per year.

In 2020 money, that’s £5,067.37 per year1. We know that Bob worked six days a week. Assume ten hours a day. That’s 60 × 52 weeks = 3,120 hours per year.

Using the typical 2,080 person hours2

Then, back in 1843 (when A Christmas Carol was published):

  • 20 shillings = £1 makes 15 shillings = £0.75

  • He works 6 days a week and

  • £1 back then is £129.93 ≅ £130 now. This means that £0.75 back then ≅ £98 now.

  • £98 per week, six days out of the week = £16.33 per day

  • £16.33 per day, 8 hours per day ≅ £2 per hour

  • With the current conversion rate, £2 per hour = $2.7 per hour

$2.7 per hour is significantly worse than the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

However, simple income adjustments are not the whole story! And I think that’s what the commenters appear to miss. One must factor the purchasing power of a dollar around 180 years ago.

Dollars from different years don’t represent an accurate comparison of their real value. Practically, it means that you can’t buy the same amount of goods and services with the same amount of dollars in different years. For comparing the value of dollars in particular years, the older figure should be adjusted by a price index.

Omni Calculator

You get a sense of the purchasing power of a dollar in 2021 compared to say 2000 by subtracting the cumulative change in inflation rates for 2021, which is 348%, and 2000, which is 301%. In this example, the difference is 47%. So a $1 in 2000 is worth $1.47 now.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a CPI Inflation Calculator that only goes back to 1913 (so 70 years of missing data.) If you plotted the changes in inflation rates, you’d get a mess of a graph that’s very hard to extrapolate back to 1843 (because economies are complex and sensitive things and a lot of unpredictable shit can happen.)

Graph of changes in inflation from 1913 - 2021

So what to do? Let’s say you worked (unlikely, and especially so if you worked for Scrooge.) At $2.70 an hour, you made $5,616 per year or


I really liked this page.


  1. According to the Bank of England’s Inflation Calculator which, because England, has data going back to 1209. ↩︎

  2. 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. ↩︎