Aspects of Unemployment, July 1913 (fragment)

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Aspects of Unemployment.

The aged poor, forlorn and out of work are one of the most piteous sights in the world. I recall in my immediate neighborhood an old carpenter who is no longer "taken on" by the contractors, a French cabinet maker whose exquisite inlay work is no longer fashionable, an "embosser of wills and deeds" who has been displaced by the typewriter -- all of them honest men, free from the vices of drinking or gambling but actually suffering for lack of adequate food and shelter.

It is obvious that the unemployment of able, adult men under sixty-five years of age is abnormal and wasteful, not only of brawn and muscle but often of ripened judgment and valuable experience. Each day his unemployment is prolonged, such a man ages perceptibly, loses his self-confidence, avoids meeting his old friends, wonders if life is worth living and, if his idleness is too long continued, he is in danger either of becoming transformed from the man who is merely unemployed and looking for work to the man who is unemployable and unwilling to work, or of falling into an habitual and dangerous depression of spirit. The phrases most often used in connection with the suicides which the daily papers report in such ghastly numbers are "out of work" and "grown discouraged looking for work". This sense of uselessness, of being wanted nowhere, is perhaps the most difficult strain to which the nervous system can be subjected.

In addition to the older men there are thousands of others suffering the enforced idleness and prolonged privation due to unemployment. Even in a prosperous year "from one-quarter to [page 2] one-third of the wage earners are turned out of work for various periods" for which the seasonable industries are largely responsible, and to these are added "the ten per cent of wage earners engaged in manufactures who are kept as reserve to meet the fluctuating monthly demands". This so-called normal number may at any moment be suddenly augmented, not only by trade depression but through the invention of machinery, the formation of a trust, the shutting down of mills or the closing of mines, the termination of a large contract, the failure of a crop which supplies the raw material to a given industry, the overstocking of a market and even by the caprice of fashion! The magnitude of loss thus caused to the nation, first in the million of days when productive labor is unutilized and, secondly, in the degradation of character and physique <resulting from idleness,> can scarcely be exaggerated!

A notable study of Unemployment with its reaction upon national life was made in a report submitted by a minority of the Poor Law Commission to the British Parliament in 1909, and its recommendations have formed the basis of the Crusade against Poverty that is now being carried on in England. The report insists that in order to deal adequately with the problem of the Unemployed, that the Aged, the Sick, the Feeble-Minded and the Immature Youth who constantly lower the standard of wages and reduce the able-bodied to idleness, must be entirely removed from the labor market and must be adequately taken care of by the public authorities whose business it is to provide for them. For the first two classes England is already doing this; Old Age Pensions established by the Government in 1908 allow to the Aged Poor who are over seventy years of age a maximum of five shillings a week for an individual, ten shillings for a couple -- these old people to be freed as far [page 3] as possible from "workhouse" treatment; <the English system is,> in many respects, <similar to> the systems of Old Age Insurance which have been instituted for many years in Germany. The Governmental Insurance against Sickness became operative in England in 1911, and although attended with difficulties owing to the opposition of the medical profession, in the trades to which it now applies it provides for medical attendance, sanitarium treatment or compensation, and withdraws from competition many people who are unable to work but who, without the aid of this insurance, would continue as a depressing element in the labor market.

It is difficult to estimate the amount of unemployment due to illness and trade diseases; tuberculosis alone is said to be responsible for withdrawing <thousands of> able-bodied men from industry every year. We all know many artisan families ever haunted by the dread that illness or non-employment may at any moment separate the members and scatter them into public institutions, because America has avoided the insurance system so well established in other great nations to protect life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age. Many Chicago people recall the young brass finisher who a year ago entered an office and at the point of a revolver held up the astonished business man, only to drop the weapon at the stenographer's appeal that "he looked too good a fellow for such business". He was only twenty-three years old and had worked steadily in a brass foundry until he was discharged because he was ill from tuberculosis super-induced by the brass fillings in his lungs. His discouraged wife with her child in her arms had told him that morning when he went as usual to look for work that she hoped he would not return unless he could bring back some money, for the baby had had nothing but tea for supper and breakfast. The desperate man confided his plight [page 4] to a chance acquaintance and was by him induced to try "a sure way to get money". The path between industrial disease, unemployment and crime is not often so direct but it is only easy to trace it to death and orphanage.

The attempt to free the labor market from the competition of the Feeble-Minded is being made in England as in other countries, by placing them in farm colonies where it is possible to make them self-sustaining. The attempt to curtail the labor of the young is also world-wide. When the English Poor Law Commission, without any apology for entering into the field of education, recommended that "the legally permissible hours for the employment of boys must be shortened, that they must be required to spend the hours so set free in physical and technological training, that the manufacturing of the unemployable may cease" they formulated what the entire civilized world was beginning to discover. England hopes in time to make it illegal for a minor to devote his whole time to work which has no educational value, and to require him to attend for certain hours every week trade schools established by the local educational authorities. Similar educational requirements prevail in many German cities for apprentices who are obliged to attend school ten hours a week out of time paid for by their employers; both Massachusetts and Wisconsin under special legislation are rapidly building continuation schools to which the day attendance of working children shall be made compuslory. Other states are formulating similar plans and it is quite possible that the present session of the United States Congress will grant federal aid for mechanical and agricultural education to children of elementary and high-school age, as is now done to students in the State Universities. 

Nothing will be so valuable in reducing the number of under-employables as to protect children from the exhausting results of premature labor [written up right margin] and to <so> prolong their training that they shall be fitted for skilled [page 5] industries. 

<The English Poor Law Commission>, having eliminated from the problem of the Unemployed the care of the Aged, of the Sick, of the Feeble Minded and of the Immature, the report divided the remaining able-bodied into four distinct types; (1) The Men from Permanent Situations; (2) the Men from Discontinous Employment; (3) The Underemployed; (4) The Unemployables. The Commission was much concerned that men should not be allowed to degenerate through enforced unemployment and chronic underemployment into parasitic unemployables.

For these four classes they urged a National Labor Exchange, which has since been put into operation, whose function is not only (a) to ascertain and report the surplus and shortage of labor of particular kinds at particular places and (b) to diminish the time and energy now spent in looking for work and the consequent "leakage" between jobs, but also to so dovetail casual and seasonable employment as to arrange for practical continuity of work for those now chronically underemployed. When this prompt and gratuitous machinery for discovering employment fails to find it, then the "Department of Maintenance and Training" cares for the households of the men who are waiting for re-employment provided that the men submit themselves to the physical and mental training which they may prove to require. The men are thus saved from the disastrous effects of idleness and, in many cases, finally return to their permanent employment with their industrial value actually increased. These National Exchanges established in 1909 were necessary for carrying out the Lloyd George [program] of industrial insurance. Without some such machinery the insurance against Unemployment which was enacted in England in 1910 and went into effect last year, would be sure to break down owing to the excessive amount of "time lost" between jobs and the impossibility of knowing that every claimant had done his best to find work. The National Labor Exchanges have been able to do much to restore to normal work the men of the first two classes, but to deal with the third class is more difficult, [page 6] for under-employment extends to many hundreds of thousands of workers throughout their entire livesv and is by far the worst in its evil effects. Many paupers are the result of three types of trades; first, the subsidized labor trades wherein women and children are paid wages insufficient to maintain them at the required standard of health and industrial efficiency so that wages must be supplemented by relatives or charity; second, labor deteriorating trades which have sapped the energy, the capacity and the character of successive generations of workers; third, bare subsistence trades wherein the worker is forced to such a low level in his standard of life that he continually fails below self-support.

The problems of Underemployment can only be helped indirectly through a control of the sweated industries and by the establishment of Minimum Wage Boards, but in the meantime much may be accomplished through public opinion if we all realize that when the sewing women who make our garments are paid such a meager wage that their support must be eked out by charity, we <the> purchasers of those garments are paupers and in a very real sense the recipients of charitable doles.

For the fourth class of Unemployables, after their status has been carefully determined, both England and Germany establish Detention Colonies of a reformatory type where men are compulsorarily detained and kept to work under discipline. For the independent and self-reliant man out of work the farm colony is a total inadequate remedy and the Detention Colony an insult; but for the man considering whom it is doubtful whether he does not work because he cannot find it or whether he does not work because he will not -- and the two states of mind are constantly comingled and sometimes found in the same individual -- these colonies are most valuable. That even confirmed vagrants shall not be subjected to arrest until means of reclamation have tried, is in line with the development in all other philanthropy which looks toward prevention <rather than punishment>. [page 7]

While it is estimated the <that> fewer women than men are unemployed, out of the six million working women in the United States, at any given moment doubtless thousands of them are out of work. For the non-English speaking immigrant girls, a large number of whom come over without their families; for the girls in the dressmaking, millinery and tailoring trades whose work is so dependent upon the seasons; for the factory girl suddenly laid off because a huge establishment has overstocked the market, there must be many out-of-work periods.

Only a week ago a very pretty young girl, a telephone operator, came to Chicago from New York, hoping by a change of work and climate to recover her health. She arrived with six dollars, five of which -- eager for respectable surroundings -- she had spent for a room in an expensive part of the city. When her remaining dollar was reduced to fourteen cents and no work had yet been found, starved and discouraged she one afternoon took two pairs of gloves from a department store where she was applying for work. She reached the street with her theft undiscovered but became so troubled and conscience stricken that half an hour later she returned the gloves to the counter and was then arrested by the detective for shop lifting. It would be difficult to find either in New York or Chicago a more honest and upright girl than she had always been. In the midst of her fatigue and bewilderment she constantly said "If I had only found work; if I had only found work!"

Many people, especially those living in rural communities for whom it is difficult to secure "help" either for the household or harvest field during the busiest months of the year; are prone to judge the entire problem of the unemployed from the tramp or vagrant who begs for food and lodging but who persistently shirks any jobs or permanent work offered to him. It is but natural that to the [page 8] minds of people who have repeatedly had this experience there are no unemployed except those who will not work, but in point of fact Unemployment is one of the most complicated and difficult problems of modern society.

 Jane Addams [signed]

Chicago.> [page 9]

<Aspects of Unemployment>

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