to poor soil or other natural restrictions. Migra-
mentah" tions from poorer to richer regions then result in
Physical wars. Again, there may be unfavorable climatic
conditions, such as an excess of moisture or a
lack of rainfall, as found in swamp lands and deserts.
Scientific agriculture has done much for the productivity
of such regions and has made them more capable of sup-
porting a larger population. Natural forces may produce
floods, earthquakes, storms or droughts, and cause a given
locality to suffer from temporary poverty or even pauperism.
Illustrations of this fact are found in the Johnstown flood,
in the San Francisco earthquake, and in the storm of
Galveston. Fires in our great cities have, by force of
accident, reduced many families of means to actual want.
The Problem of Poverty
436 Problems of American Democracy
Again, certain diseases, like malaria and hook-worm,
flourish in particular environments. Inhabitants of these
regions are regarded as indolent and shiftless, whereas
their constitutions are really undervitalized by environ-
The chief objective causes of poverty, however, lie in
the economic environment. By the use of improved
Economic methods of production, western nations have
environment. reac h ec i a better economic adjustment than the
Orient, where poverty is more rampant. Nevertheless,
we have seen that our own progressive and democratic
society permits many maladjustments, such as occupational
diseases, industrial accidents, and child labor. Social
insurance is an important ally in the war against pauperism.
Low wages afford a most important cause of poverty. The
total income for many families is insufficient to maintain a
normal standard of living. Unemployment is another
economic maladjustment resulting in poverty. Cycles of
business depression and seasonal unemployment are
attended by an enormous rise in the poverty rate. Periods
of financial distress and industrial crises cause a terrific
strain upon relief organizations. Strikes and lockouts
have a similar effect. That changes in industry may
produce temporary hardship is well illustrated by the
transition from the domestic to the factory system. A bad
system of land tenure, such as existed in England during
the time of the enclosures, produces much poverty. The
rapid industrialization of the United States since the
Civil War has had its accompanying social cost in increased
poverty. Before this transition, the great Mississippi
Valley for many years furnished a supply of free land to
those- in our own country who cared to move westward.
The Problem of Poverty 437
In fact, the poverty problem in America may be said to
date from the increasing exhaustion of this supply of free
land. Other economic causes of poverty may be found in
various maladjustments brought about by changing
Social environment is another factor in the problem of
poverty. Unsanitary living conditions may be as much
the cause, as the result, of poverty. We have social
already spoken of bad housing conditions in â„¢â„¢Â° nment -
connection with the problem of the city. Such conditions
may produce sickness, which often results in the death or
unemployment of the wage earner. Thus, the family
becomes dependent upon the charity of the community, a
situation which might have been obviated by different
living conditions. Sickness or death of the bread winner
may be merely the immediate and most obvious cause of
poverty resulting from bad housing. Such distinctions are
important, for in each case of poverty there are numerous
contributory causes. Again, the associations that pre-
vail in the congested districts of a great city may injure
the morals, as much as the health, of those concerned.
Idleness, shiftlessness, or degeneracy in family life may
thus result in poverty. The saloon, the immoral dance
hall, vicious theatres and amusement places have often led
to the dissipation of funds required for the necessities of
life. Moreover, such sordid pleasures inculcate ideas other
than those of steady industry and produce a degenerating
effect upon the health and morals of the worker. Again,
unrestricted immigration may be as injurious to the immi-
grant himself as to the American worker, whose wages and
standards of living he lowers. Our study of immigration
has shown how large a percentage of the recipients of char-
438 Problems of American Democracy
ity are foreign born. Unwise philanthropy as a factor
in poverty will be discussed in the following chapter. It
will be sufficient to state here in this connection that, so
long as begging is more profitable than working, poverty
will spread throughout society.
Political corruption often returns to power the legislator
who fails to pass laws for the good of those who elect him.
Defects in Because of inadequate legislation, monopoly
government. p r i ces ta k e too i arge a s hare of the laborer's
wages, child labor continues to harass his family, and the
building inspector fails to report his landlord's condemned
tenement. Legislation is no panacea for social ills, but
wise laws and their proper enforcement are necessary to
progressive adjustment. They are an essential part of
any scheme of social reform. Again, bribery of the voter
may result in the purchase of the necessities of life for some
poverty-stricken individual. The ward "boss" may be to
him a greater help in time of trouble than the local charity
organization. Such a policy, however, is to say the least
short sighted, because it does not eliminate the causes and
conditions which give rise to poverty. The poor man's
vote should compel beneficial legislation for social reform.
The attitude toward government is changing and its
sphere of activity widening. Like other institutions of
society, government is being socialized. It must provide
for the public health and recreation, as well as for the pub-
lic safety. Bad housing conditions and unsanitary work-
ing conditions are a reproach to good government.
Among other ideals, education should aim to make the
individual self-supporting. Lack of industrial training in
our public schools has been one cause of dependency. Until
recently, it often happened that a boy could not receive
The Problem of Poverty 439
training in a trade at public expense unless he committed a
crime and was sent to the industrial school Defects in
or to the reformatory. Statistics also show education -
that the proportion of illiteracy and ignorance among
dependents is abnormally high.
Let us now inquire into those causes of poverty which
are individual rather than environmental in nature. Pau-
perism is an acquired characteristic and conse- Individua i
quently not hereditary. But a physical and causes:
mental degeneracy, causing poverty or pauper-
ism, may be inherent in the germ cell and therefore heredi-
tary. This fact would seem to explain why pauperism may
"run" in a given family and be regarded by the unin-
formed as hereditary. Such degeneracy may take various
forms in the second generation. The offspring of a drunken
parent may incline toward both drunkenness and pauper-
ism. Neither characteristic is strictly speaking hereditary,
as is the inherent weakness or degeneracy which produces
it. The physical and mental stamina of certain stocks
may be subnormal, and their offspring, under force of cir-
cumstances, may drift into one of the various social debtor
classes. They may also be regarded as inferior variations,
which cannot care for themselves in society's struggle for
existence. Certain studies of degenerate families seem to
bear out this conclusion. For example, a study of the
Jukes family by Dugdale shows a long line of descendants
traced in prison records, almshouses, and drunkards' graves.
The influence of the social environment of a particular
family is also important, but must not be confused with its
heredity. The only members of the Jukes family, for
example, who amounted to anything were those who left
their old associations and started life afresh in some new
44Â° Problems of American Democracy
community. Dr. Goddard finds his clue to degeneracy
and pauperism in feeble-mindedness, and estimates that
one-half of the inmates of almshouses are feeble-minded.
Since feeble-mindedness is hereditary, and not acquired,
we are able to understand how many cases of pauperism
may appear in the same family. This is the theme of his
most readable little story of the Kallikak family. Only
segregation of the feeble-minded will prevent the propaga-
tion of their kind and the passing on to future generations
of degeneracy and pauperism.
Disease is a most important cause of poverty. Dr.
Devine states that seventy-five per cent of poverty is due
to disease; not twenty-five per cent as is usually
supposed. It is certain that from twenty-five to
forty per cent of all cases applying for relief represent a
temporary or permanent disability due to sickness. This
is the individual expression of such objective causes as
unsanitary living conditions, improper housing, bad work-
ing conditions, and dangerous trades.
Although the importance of intemperance as a cause of
poverty has probably been exaggerated, nearly one-fourth
intemper- of all cases coming before charity organizations
ance - were traced to the ravages of alcohol. The
Committee of Fifty, who investigated this subject several
years ago, found that over forty-one per cent of the
inmates of almshouses owed their condition directly or indi-
rectly to alcoholic excess. Before the advent of prohibition,
many families lived in want and squalor because the bread
winner persisted in spending his income in the saloon.
As a destroyer of efficiency alcohol was a frequent cause
of unemployment. Intemperance is a subjective cause of
poverty, but it has its roots in numerous objective causes
The Problem of Poverty 441
such as pernicious social customs, long hours of work, and
poor facilities for recreation. Immorality must also be
mentioned, for Dugdale places it even ahead of intem-
perance as the cause of degeneracy in the Jukes family.
The imprisonment of the bread winner is a frequent
cause of poverty to his family. Society shelters, feeds, and
clothes the criminal, but permits innocent mem-
bers of his family to suffer. To remedy this
injustice some states have passed laws by which the prod-
ucts of convict labor are turned over to their families.
Desertion by the head of the family appears in from five
to ten per cent of all cases of dependency in our large cities.
Children may be abandoned by their parents, or
T f Desertion.
wives by their husbands. In the case of many
destitute families, relatives show a remarkable indifference
to their condition. Charity workers find a surprising
amount of neglect upon the part of near relations and a
failure to help in cases of dependency.
Death of the main support appears in from ten to twenty
per cent of relief cases. Some form of social insurance for
the poor, or a sound life insurance system within
their reach, is earnestly advocated. Widows main
and orphans, however, have always appealed to
human sympathy, and funds given by philanthropists have
founded numerous institutions for the care of such persons.
Charity workers find little difficulty in caring for orphans,
for more funds are at their disposal for this group of des-
titutes than for any other.
Old age is frequently a cause of dependency, and the
almshouse is often the final home for the aged. Such a
situation is cruelly unfair. Many old persons have been
industrious workers and have reared large families. But,
442 Problems of American Democracy
now, having outgrown their period of usefulness, they are
incapacitated for further work. Old age pensions would
lift the stigma of the poor-house from the aged,
Old age. ......
who have no means of support for their declining
years. Society should at least provide separate and com-
fortable homes for the aged, where husband and wife will
not be parted and where they will not come into contact
with the feeble-minded, the degenerate, and other sub-
normal groups found in the average almshouse.
Defectives are frequently public charges. The crippled
and the blind constitute a large proportion of the beggars
upon our streets. At present, the almshouse is
the general depository for most of these varied
groups. Special methods of treatment for each class of
defectives will be discussed in a later chapter in which this
group of social debtors will be carefully analyzed.
Shiftlessness and laziness are individual characteristics
which may lead to poverty and pauperism. It is esti-
mated that from ten to fifteen per cent of all
cases of distress may be attributed to these indi-
vidual weaknesses. However, a number of so-called cases
of laziness were found, upon physical examination, to be
due to an undervitalized health condition. For example,
the shiftlessness of the "poor white trash" of the South
was found in some cases to be due to hook-worm. Malaria
may play the same role, and poor health and malnutrition
may result in a lowered vitality. Again, retarded school
children in slum districts were found upon examination
to be underfed and anaemic. Environment, however, will
not explain every such case; for there are some individuals
who are inherently lazy and shiftless. Again, many poor
people are in a condition of poverty because of their own
The Problem of Poverty 443
improvidence. A lack of judgment prevents their exer-
cising a wise economy in applying their earnings to the
purchase of food, clothing, and other necessaries. Scar-
city of funds also necessitates buying in small quantities
and only for immediate consumption. Hence the poor are
often over-charged. For these reasons, tactful settlement
workers are carefully studying the manner in which the
poor spend their small incomes and are seeking to advise
them as to what constitutes wise economy.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Define poverty in its sociological sense.
2. Distinguish between poverty and pauperism.
3. What is your opinion about the final elimination of poverty?
4. Give an estimate of the extent of poverty in the United States.
5. Give an estimate of the extent of pauperism.
6. How has our point of view regarding poverty changed?
7. Why is it important to study the causes of poverty?
S. What mistakes did several reformers make?
9. Explain poverty from the standpoint of the theory of evolution.
10. Explain how the causes of poverty overlap.
11. Distinguish between the immediate and the remote, or the
main and the contributory, causes of poverty.
12. What two-fold classification do we make of the causes of
13. Explain the relation of the physical environment to poverty.
Give illustrations. Give others not in the text.
14. Give the economic causes of poverty.
15. Give the causes resident in the social environment. Name
others besides those in the text.
16. Show how one factor may be both a cause and a result of
17. What defects of government and of our educational system
18. Explain the relation of degeneracy to pauperism.
444 Problems of American Democracy
19. Is pauperism hereditary if it seems to "run" in the same
family in successive generations?
20. Name in order of importance the various causes of poverty
resident in the individual.
21. Discuss each.
22. What is often the cause of laziness?
TOPICS FOR SPECIAL REPORT
1. The relation of heredity to poverty.
2. The causes of poverty of the "X" family. (A study of some
poor family with which you are acquainted. Distinguish between
immediate and remote causes).
3 . The alleged improvidence of the poor as a cause of poverty.
4. The amount of poverty in the largest city nearest you.
5. The effects of the World War upon poverty in Europe and
6. Economic causes of poverty. (Prepare as complete a list as
possible by reviewing the earlier sections of the book.)
7. The effect of prohibition upon poverty.
8. A study of the almshouse.
9. The Jukes.
10. The Kallikak family.
Devine, E. T. Misery and Its Causes.
Dugdale, R. L. The Jukes.
Ellwood, C. A. Sociology and Modern Social Problems. Chapter
Goddard, H. H. The Kallikak Family.
Henderson, C. R. Dependents, Defectives and Delinquents. Chap-
ters I to IV.
Hunter, R- Poverty.
Smith, S. G. Social Pathology.
Warner, A. G. American Charities. Chapters II to V.
The Organization of Charity
I. History of charity
i. Early times
2. Middle Ages
3. England â€” the poor law
4. America â€” indoor and outaoor relief:
a. The difference
b. Relative value
5. Germany â€” Elberfeld system
6. The modern point of view:
a. Its character
b. The trend of progress
II. The almshouse
1 . General character
2. Special defects
3. Needed reforms
4. The remedies
III. Outdoor and private relief
1. The Church
2 Medical charities
3. Private associations :
a. Their nature
b. Their dangers
4. Charity organization societies:
5. Principles of relief
6. Friendly visiting in the family
7. Social settlements
8. Care of dependent children
446 Problems of American Democracy
History of Charity. â€” Charity in its old sense of alms-
giving is a very ancient practice extolled by Hindu,
Early Chinese, and Egyptian philosophers.* In early
Athens a poor tax was regularly collected, and
in Judea the synagogue was the center of relief for the
poor. Its successor, the Christian Church, attempted in
early times to socialize wealth through a process of com-
munism. One of the first officers in the primitive church
was the deacon, whose chief duty was to look after the
poor of the congregation. Ancient Rome was said to
have had asylums for abandoned children and for
wounded soldiers. The poor may have sought shelter in
the public baths of Rome, as they do at present in our
own parks and public buildings. Trajan is reported to
have cared for five thousand poor children. The most
famous relief in Rome, however, was what was known as
" Caesar's bread." This was the name given to the system
whereby the poor Roman citizen could obtain food from
the public granaries free, or at a very low price. It has
been estimated that at the time of Julius Caesar three
hundred and twenty thousand persons were registered for
the free distribution of grain. Although intended as a
social reform by Gracchus, its vicious and pauperizing
influence upon the Roman people may be seen in the
laziness and immorality of the later Empire. It is the
classical example of unwise philanthropy which destroys
independence by removing the necessity for work.
In the Middle Ages almsgiving was regarded as a method
of securing the favor of heaven. The effect upon the
Middle giver seemed more important than the result
Ages ' upon the recipient of alms. The medieval
ascetic spirit founded numerous monasteries which served
The Organization of Charity â– 447
as inns for weary pilgrims and travelers. That riches were
associated with sin, and poverty with saintly character, is
well illustrated by St. Francis of Assisi and by the Order of
Poor Friars. A monastery was usually the center of alms-
giving, and indiscreet charity often produced a great
increase in the number of beggars who thronged the doors
of the beautiful cathedrals. The Church, however, was
the only organized force in the Middle ages which attempted
to alleviate distress by founding hospitals, asylums, and
retreats for children and unfortunates.
With the break-up of serfdom, European nations began
to pass laws against vagrancy and wandering serfs. The
dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII â€ž , ,
J J Englandâ€”
of England increased the amount of unrelieved the Poor
distress. It was not until the age of Elizabeth,
however, that the State began to supersede the Church as
the dispensing agent of charity. Laws were passed which
became the foundations of the famous English Poor Law.
The parish was to make a list of its poor, who were to be
helped by the compulsory contributions of the more
prosperous. The administration of these laws tended to
increase pauperism and the consequent expenditure for
relief. All the needy were to receive help, and, as almost
all laborers were needy, they were entitled to the stipend.
This situation was undermining the independence and
manhood of the English workman. Again, this condition
was being exploited by employers, who refused to raise
wages because of the State's supplement to labor's income.
It has been estimated that the amount spent for poor
relief in 181 8 reached 7,870,801 pounds, or almost forty
million dollars, for a population of only eleven million
people. In 1832 a royal commission was appointed to
448 Problems of American Democracy
investigate the matter of state relief. It was found that
a man was often economically better off when rated as a
pauper, than when rated as an independent worker. In
1834 a new Poor Law Act was passed. It provided for a
central government board and inspectors to examine the
work of the local authorities. No state relief was to be
given to the destitute, if able-bodied. They must seek
the work-house to be built by the union of parishes. The
cessation of public outdoor relief was marked by a great
decrease in the amount of pauperism. The work-house
now became the only institution of public charity. Its
deadening character and maladministration have been
criticized by many reports and pictured in many works of
fiction. Its counterpart, the American almshouse, will be
discussed in a later section.
By indoor relief is meant the institutional care of the
poor supported in almshouses. Outdoor relief is the caring
for this same dependent group in their own
indoor and homes by gifts of money, provisions, or other
relief V necessaries. Indoor relief is a recognized func-
Thedif- tion of the modern State, for otherwise indi-
viduals might die upon the streets. Outdoor
relief, however, as a state function, is still a matter of
debate. The very helpless should be placed in institu-
tions, but the care of those in slight need had, perhaps,
best be left to private and individual charity. We have
seen the history of public outdoor relief in England and
know why it was stopped. In America there has been no
consistent national policy. Public outdoor relief may
exist in one community and be absent in another. Most
of our large cities, like New York and Philadelphia, have
abandoned this policy. When it was abandoned in
The Organization of Charity
Brooklyn, it was surprising to note how the appeals to
private charitable organizations failed to show the increase
that had been expected. The inference drawn from this
fact is that much of the former public outdoor relief had
not been needed, or had been unwisely distributed.
The Bread Line at the Bowery Mission
There are arguments both for and against public outdoor
relief. In its favor may first be mentioned its apparent
economy. It seems unnecessary to send an individual, or
his family, to the poor-house when a slight finan-
cial aid will permit living at home. Again, since
the disability of the bread winner may be only
temporary, outdoor relief often preserves the unity of the
family. This system is also more flexible and may be varied
450 Problems of American Democracy
according to the needs of the situation. Much of the ap-
parent economy, however, of public outdoor relief has not
been a reality. English experience has shown how, like a
contagion, the acceptance of relief may spread throughout a
community. Again, giving to the poor requires great dis-
crimination and an experience in social work not usually
found in public officials. In many of our cities political
corruption has vitiated its administration. The probability
and amount of public outdoor relief has been affected by
the size of the pauper vote.
A number of German communities have handled the
administration of public outdoor relief in a characteristic
manner. The best known plan is the Elberfeld
Germany â€” # x
Elberfeld system. This is based upon the unpaid personal
services of citizens acting in systematic coopera-
tion with each other and under a salaried superintendent.
There is a thorough examination of each individual
dependent, a careful guardianship of him during his period