To many people in Nebraska the most important problem after the close of World War I was the rising cost of living. Persons on fixed incomes, such as public employees, were hurt most, but workers in the private sector were scarcely better off. Some did receive small pay increases of ten or twenty percent, but this was inadequate to deal with steep price hikes.
Nationally the cost of living had increased 66 percent during World War I. Food, which took 43 percent of the family budget, had advanced 83 percent, and clothing, which took 13 percent of the family budget, had advanced 93 percent. Food prices in Nebraska from 1914 through 1918 were well below the national average, advancing only 25 percent.
The indifference shown by many buyers accounted in part for the high prices, especially for luxury clothing. However, by the summer of 1919 there was increasing demand that the cost of living be lowered. In Nebraska, Governor Samuel McKelvie ordered an investigation. Hearings were held to investigate profiteering, hoarding, and similar practices. The governor was dissatisfied with the results of the investigation and declared that the principal result of the agitation regarding the cost of living had been to reduce the price farmers received for their grain.
During the fall and early winter of 1919 complaints about high prices continued and buying slowed. A buyers’ strike quickly developed that spread over the country. In December the Lincoln Woman’s Club, with a membership of 1,700, entered into an agreement among themselves to boycott all expensive foods, including butter and eggs. The group later extended its efforts to try to force down the price of clothing.
The buyers’ strike spread rapidly over Nebraska, but such voluntary efforts were not immediately effective, and prices remained high in many places during the early months of 1920. On the national scene the determined stand of the buying public was having its effect, and easterners continued their efforts to carry on a buyers’ strike. By fall of 1920 the price of food was declining. When the Nebraska Board of Control met in September to award contracts for supplies for state institutions, it found the prices for foodstuffs lower than they had been for some time.