Annals of the American Academy

Published: 2021-07-01 08:53:20
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Category: Unemployment

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When out of work the average member of the working class loses his chief means of support. It is, therefore, a matter of life and death to him. The most immediate and vital effect of unemployment on the worker is a very serious reduction of the wage scale. Enough has been said to show how greatly unemployment reduces the pay received. In debasement of any general information for Philadelphia industries, an investigation made in New Jersey will best serve to indicate, in a general way, the extent to which the wage scale is depressed by unemployment.
Figures collected by the New Jersey State Department of Labor from firms employing over 21 ,OHO workers in the machine industry and from firms employing nearly 16,000 persons in the silk industry show that each of these industries worked during the normal industrial year of 1912 at approximately 70 per cent of total capacity. The actual average wage received during the year for the machine industry was $684; for the silk industry, $509. If full time had been made, it follows that an increase of over 40 per cent would have resulted. This would have meant an average annual wage for the machine industry of $977; for the silk industry of $726.
If this 27 per cent of time had not been lost, the average annual wage would have been $566. The average annual loss of wage per employee through unemployment was at least $1 53, and was probably much more, if time lost waiting in the mill, and time lost by hose laid off, were included.

Average annual wage lost through lost time spent outside of mill $334 237 452 $124 173 168 164 These results are shown graphically in fig. 19. In short, the worker loses the opportunity of earning 100 per cent of what his energies and abilities warrant. Permanent or chronic unemployment means a permanent loss of wage. In essence it means that the family of a man with a $1,000 or $1,200 earning ability cannot profit by or live according to the standard of such means, because the man is actually earning only from $500 to $1,000 a year.
Not merely does unemployment seriously reduce the income of the worker; it makes his income decidedly irregular. Regular income is interrupted by periods of total or partial stoppage of income. In times characterized by such unusual industrial depression as of the past winter, the loss of income is complete on the part of thousands. To a large degree, the worker is entirely ignorant when such misfortune will befall him. Such a situation almost forces the worker to lead a hand-to-mouth existence.
He hesitates to plan ahead, because he never knows whether he will be able to carry through his plans or not, for fear of an interruption of income. A premium is, therefore, placed on the lack of thrift. When the normal income returns after a famine period, it not unnaturally leads a family to spend extravagantly after the strain of pinching through a hard time, Just as human nature always has, from the days we were savages, led us to indulge in an orgy of feasting after a long fasting. Unemployment and irregular employment are the arch enemies of thrift.
The Annals of the American Academy Perhaps the most serious industrial result of unemployment is its effect on the quality of the working people. It makes good workers bad. It turns workers who were capable and willing into men who are neither capable nor willing to hold a steady Job if they could get one. As one man with whom I talked when he was out in front of a hosiery mill at the noon hour, said, " For six months before this month, we have been working from 8 to 3. When we came to go back to the old hours (7 to 5. 0) it seemed at first as if we Just couldn't make ourselves get up an hour earlier and work two hours later. " The utter inability of the workers to understand or to change the situation breeds a fatalistic lack of hope that soon manifests itself in a lack of ambition and effort. The secretary of the National Lace Weavers' Union says, "The lace industry has made more bums than any industry I know of. I have seen men go into the mills only to work an hour this morning or an hour this afternoon, so long, that they are incapable of sustained effort.
They lose their personal 'punch' and often eventually lose their ability to discuss anything except how things are this week in this or that plant. One of the usual ways by which such a depression leads to a debasing of the worker is by causing the skilled man to drift into an unskilled trade. When a man is out of work, he is very apt to "take anything" that offers, whether it is a job in which he can utilize his skill or not. The very common result is that he is never able to "come back" to his own trade.
His ability in his particular trade is sacrificed and he drifts into the already tremendously overcrowded class of unskilled men. Not only the worker but the entire Philadelphia community as well, is the loser by this lowering of the skill of abort. The injury to the worker by unemployment extends beyond his mere industrial efficiency, and dangerously affects the social standing, the family relations, the health, the intelligence and the public orderliness of the working classes of the community.
A series of interviews with Kensington textile workers (chiefly Anglicans) is one steady story of used up savings, of increased debts, and of "half time" for four, six or nine months during the past winter. Even the few whose greater savings or "steadier time" would normally have led them to avoid the "pinch" f the past winter, have felt obliged to lend to the less fortunate to an extent 41 Steadying Employment which, in many cases, has meant a severe drain on their own resources. The lowered income during such a winter as the past. 1914-1 5) very frequently means the curtailment of the necessities of food, fuel and clothing, to the point where the health is seriously impaired. It is almost impossible to measure this injury. Mr. Bradford, who is in charge of the "Lighthouse" and was quoted previously (page 6), said during the spring of 1915, "l should not be at all surprised if, as a result of the erring of physical vitality among the Kensington workers, because of insufficient nourishment and protection, there should come about an epidemic of disease that will cost us dear.
Whether it does or does not happen, we have a permanent injury as a result of this year's unemployment in the lessened vitality of the people. " Every severe depression is a great destroyer of family life. Almost every family with whom I conversed knew of two or three families that were forced to "break up" because of the unemployment during the past winter. One of the usual results of unemployment s a considerable increase in the number of thefts, burglaries and suicides.

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