Child Labor And Poverty referat





Child Labor And Poverty


In the early 20th century poverty and child labor was spread widely in American society. Beginning in 1921, a growth without precedent in the history of the world began in the American economy. Then, starting with a dramatic stock market crash in 1929, the economy collapsed. The country entered the worst economic crisis in its history. Industrial production declined, new investment virtually ceased, unemployment reached the highest proportions that ever existed.




The remarkable economic growth and the big business were one side of the American economy in the 1920’s. Another was the bad distribution of wealth and

purchasing power that persisted during this decade. The so called “New Era Prosperity“ was real enough, but it was only restricted to a minority of the population. More than two-thirds of the American people in 1929 lived at no better than at the “minimum comfort level“.

Most laborers worked for employers which were interested only in keeping their laborers’ costs to a minimum and, therefore, workers received wage increases that were proportionately far below the increases in corporate profits. Unskilled workers in particular, saw their wages increase very slowly- by only a little over 2% between 1920 and 1926. Many workers had no real security in their jobs. Unemployment was higher than during most of the previous decades. An average of between 5 and 7% of non-farm workers were unemployed between 1923 and 1929. American workers remained a relatively poor and powerless group in the 1920’s. Their wages rose, but the average income of a worker remained below $1500 a year at a time when $1800 were considered necessary to maintain a minimally decent standard of living. Especially in industries such as coal mining and textiles the wages didn’t rise at all, but the number of working hours remained large.

Especially poor were the half-million blacks who had migrated from rural into urban areas. As unskilled workers they had few opportunities and were, therefore, very poor. The American farmers of this time also experienced a decline. There was a decline in food prices which made the farmers suffer a severe drop in their incomes.

Poverty not only influenced America’s “adult society“ but also had a great impact on the lives of American children. In the beginning of the 20th century the people believed that idleness was bad for children. For them factories were a protector against the evils of idleness. Even in children books and school stories the theme of labor was present. School stories usually taught that the primary work was play but the responsibilities of big game loomed as inescapable presence. The idea of moral centrality of work was strong.

In World War I children and women had to replace the jobs of the men who went into the war. Poverty which was also caused through the war forced many families to send their children into factories or other working places. The children always claimed to be older than they really were. They were told to do so by parents and bosses because many of them were only 5, 6, or 7 years old.



Child labor varied from making artificial flowers in their own tenement flats, to tending rows of machines in huge factories. Many children worked in coal breakers which was dangerous and hard. They had to pick out pieces of slate and other refuse from the coal as it rushed past to the washers. Most of these children became deformed. They were bent-backed and round-shouldered. Accidents to the hands such as broken or crushed fingers were common. Sometimes a child got mangled in the machinery and died. The children had to inhale the “deadly“ dust which was often causing asthma (Bread-and Roses, p.30). The children had to work 12-13 hours a day. For them the day started early in the morning. After work they just ate and then went exhausted to bed and woke up at 4.30 the next morning to go to work again.

Mary Jensen, for example, was one girl born in the poverty of the 1920’s. At age four her childhood was practically over because she had to make artificial flowers until late at night every day to support the family income. She always suffered hunger and was, therefore, very fragile. Her mother was afraid of the landlord because she couldn’t pay the rent for their tenement. When Mary was a little older she had to work in a candy factory. There she had to dip candy from seven in the morning until seven at night. During Christmas time she had to work between 78 and 80 hours a week. She never got to know the pleasures of the feast herself. A little later she got Bronchitis followed by a bad cough. Finally she died. Mary Jensen is just one example for many other children fates of that time. Life in labor only ended by injury, sickness, or age.

There were different harms of work in the different working places. Laundries, bakeries, saloons, hotels, and restaurants were usually unsanitary, bad ventilated, or the children were put in harmful company. Physical dangers lurked in rail-roads, mines, quarries, glass factories, sawmills, iron and steel mills, stockyards, and tobacco factories. Child labor could be found in the South as well as in the North. There was no school for factory “kids“. In 1924 an amendment to the Constitution was proposed restricting child labor but not enough states passed the measure.

Even though there was so much poverty amongst the American people, the United States of the 1920’s was for the first time becoming a true consumer society, a society in which not only the rich people, but many ordinary men and women bought items not just because of need but for the sheer pleasure of buying. What they bought, moreover, helped change the way they lived. Middle-class families wished to purchase new appliances such as electric refrigerators, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners. Men and women wore wristwatches and smoked cigarettes.













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