What is $100 from the Late Nineteenth Century Worth Today?

Recently I was watching a lecture by historian Marcus Witcher which addressed the treatment of African Americans in the Jim Crow era. Witcher mentioned the “pig laws,” which were severe legal punishments given to Blacks in the South for what used to be petty crimes. Such as stealing a pig. He mentioned that the fines could be anywhere from $100 to $500, and then he asked me directly: how much is $100 adjusted for inflation today?

My initial, immediate answer was about $3,000. That turns out to be almost exactly correct for around 1880. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this wasn’t a satisfactory answer. We were trying to put $100 from a distant past year in context to understand how much of a burden this was for African Americans at the time. Does knowing that adjusted for inflation it’s about $3,000 give us much context?

Continue reading