The average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in the United States will be about 10 percent higher than last year, according to statistics from the American Farm Bureau Association (AFBA). However, if government subsidies to the food industry are not included, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner this year is still lower than it has been in past decades – or is it?
According to the AFBA, the cost to feed 10 people a Thanksgiving dinner will average $49.20, a $5.73 price increase from last year's average of $43.47. The price increase between two straight years is the biggest since 2006-2007, when the price jumped from $38.10 to $42.26, a $4.16 increase.
A chart on the AFBA website shows that the price of a 10-person Thanksgiving dinner has risen from $28.74 in 1986 to 2011's $49.20. When adjusted for inflation, however, the price this year is actually much cheaper, since $28.74 in 1986 equals $59.37, according to an inflation calculator on the website of the United States Department of Labor. That means Thanksgiving dinner this year is $10.17 cheaper than it was in 1986.
In 1987, however, the price of a Thanksgiving dinner dropped down to $24.51, which is $48.85 in today's dollars, roughly the same price as today's dinner, only 35 cents lower.
The cheapest Thanksgiving dinners were actually in the 1990s, which went for $25.91 in 1996 ($43.14 in 2011 dollars), and then started dropping to $26.39 in 1992 ($42.59 in 2011) and $25.64 in 1995 ($38.09 in 2011).
In the 2000s, Thanksgiving began taking a bigger hit on Americans' wallets again. In 2000, a 10-person dinner cost $32.37, which is $42.56 in today's dollars. The price would then increase every year, except between 2002 and 2003 when it dropped slightly.
In 2001, dinner cost $35.04 ($44.80 in 2011), $36.78 in 2005 ($42.64 in 2011), $38.10 in 2006 ($42.79 in 2011), and $44.61 in 2008 ($46.91 in 2011).
Of course, there are many other factors to consider when calculating the true cost of a Thanksgiving dinner, including price of gas for friends and relatives to visit, as well as taxes, which have contributed to over $216 billion in subsidies to American farmers between 1995 and 2010, according to the Environmental Working Group.
With an average annual population of 275 million between 1995 and 2010, farm subsidies for food comes out to approximately $53 per person each year. Although farm subsidies are credited with keeping prices of food down by proponents, opponents, such as economist Andrew Cassel, argue they are unnecessary and artificially drive down the prices of products, making it difficult for farmers in poorer countries to compete with American corporate farms that benefit from billions of dollars in subsidies.
From gas and taxes to inflation and economic hardship in developing countries, the "true" cost of a Thanksgiving dinner can be complicated. But whatever it is, it is probably a lot different than the $49.20 average calculated by the AFBA.