Chicago. Mayor's Commission on Unemployment.

Report of the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment online

. (page 11 of 27)
Online LibraryChicago. Mayor's Commission on UnemploymentReport of the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment → online text (page 11 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Every large city is a kind of storage place for this class of labor, and
a distributing point from which the workers go or are sent to various places
throughout the country, and to which they return when the work for which
they were hired is completed. The great class of migratory laborers thus
form a very vital part of the problem of unemployment in every city, and
particularly so in Chicago, on account of its central location. The cities feel
their presence most acutely during the winter months, when outdoor con-
struction work, farm labor, road building and similar employments are at
a standstill.

Owing to the utterly disorganized condition of these workers socially,
politically and industrially they are comparatively easy victims to any who
desire to prey upon them, and they suffer accordingly. Not being a perma-
nent part of any community, they are regarded as aliens everywhere.

While at all times many thousands are unemployed in one part of the
country, in another section there may be and often is a scarcity of such
laborers. If a system could be established whereby they could be kept prop-
erly distributed, the problem of unemployment in Chicago would not be so
great as it is under the present circumstances.

The system of private employment agencies through which this class
of labor is largely distributed is vicious in the extreme. However, it seems
unnecessary to take up space here in pointing out the unfair practices of the
employment sharks and the methods they use in victimizing the laborers.
They have been exposed often and should be put out of business. Nothing
can be done through them to remedy the problems confronting the migratory

The public or state employment agencies, even though established on a
large scale, would be of little more service than are the private agencies, ex-
cept, perhaps, that state agencies might bring about easier distribution (not
better distribution) of the class of labor herein referred to, and that the
workers would not be subjected to quite so much graft as under present

The business of any system of employment agencies, whether state or
private, is solely to furnish laborers to employers. Thus, such agencies,
,no matter how honestly operated, have no concern about the wages, work-
ing hours, or other conditions under which the labor is to be per-
formed. The state agency system, therefore, would be of little service in
helping the workers to keep themselves properly distributed, and of no use
at all, nay, even detrimental, in the work of securing any real improvement.

There is, however, a well-proven system whereby the problem of this
class of labor can be largely solved, and the unemployment evil in the large
industrial centers, Chicago particularly, can be materially lessened. It
involves the establishment of a series of information bureaus, under the
control of the workers themselves, whose business it would be to gather
and receive information regarding the conditions of employment throughout
the country, such as the number of workers needed in various localities, the
number of men responding, the wages, hours of labor and working conditions

Information thus received would be regarded as entirely trustworthy
by the workers, and they would soon learn where the best opportunities
existed during given periods, and as a result would voluntarily distribute
themselves accordingly. They would also, as a most natural and necessary
consequence, use their control over such information offices to secure better
wages, shorter hours of labor and improved living and working conditions.


The result would be beneficial to the cities, which would be largely
relieved of the present burden of unemployed workers of this class. It
would make better citizens of the workers themselves, and thus benefit
both the state and the nation.

The method I advocate is not very popular with employers, but it is a
practical method and will bring some real results.

No class of workers move about over larger areas than do seamen.
The offices of the Seamen's Union on the Great Lakes and on the seaboards
are all information bureaus on the subject of employment at the various
ports. Once each week reports are exchanged between all union offices,
giving general information as to the number of idle men in each port and the
opportunities for securing employment. As a result of this constant source
of information, which they know is reliable, the men keep themselves evenly
distributed at all times. When any number of men are needed suddenly
and are not obtainable locally they are sent by the union from the nearest
port where they can be obtained. On one occasion about four hundred sail-
ors were needed at Duluth suddenly. A large fleet of idle vessels had been
ordered into commission quickly. Within thirty-six hours after the Chicago
office of the union had been notified a sufficient number of men were on
their way to Duluth. The transportation of about three hundred of these
was advanced by the union, others paying their own way. The employers
reimbursed the union for transportation given men who reported for work
after arrival. In other cases, where men changed their opinions about going
to work after accepting transportation, the settlement was between the
member and the union.

Practically every labor organization of any note maintains a system of
information similar to that described herein, and a number pay traveling
and unemployed benefits.

The migratory and casual laborers will remain in their present deplorable
condition, victims of irresponsible graft and greed, a burden upon the cities,
and difficult for other portions of the country to obtain when needed, until
they are given an opportunity to help themselves. In this they must be
encouraged. No other real help can be given them. In the interest of the
citizens of Chicago, I believe the Commission on Unemployment should call
public attention to this fact. Such action on the part of the Commission
would, of course, be a departure from the established course usually pursued
by even the best intentioned municipal investigating bodies. Generally the
remedies advocated are more poor houses, soup kitchens, attempts at regu-
lating the present evil employment agency system or, occasionally, suggest-
ing that public work of various kinds be started for the purpose of giving
employment to some of the idle workers. All of which is very charitable,
to be sure, and is so regarded by those whom it is assumed will be benefited.
But it only aggravates the situation, induces larger numbers to congregate
in the large cities, and will, I believe, ultimately result in making conditions
much worse instead of better.

The real remedy can only be applied by the workers themselves, but
the Commission on Unemployment can, if it chooses, help to point the way.
If the suggestion I offer, that of encouraging this class of labor in the essen-
tially necessary duty of self-help, will, in the judgment of the Commission,
serve to make conditions better, then it ought to say so plainly and emphat-
ically. If, on the other hand, it arrives at any other conclusion, which would,
in my opinion, mean that it believes this enormous number of American
workmen unfitted to take care of themselves, incapable of even participating
in the attempts at a solution of the problems confronting them, then the
Commission ought not to hesitate to announce its opinion of these people.
In event of the latter conclusion being arrived at, it would seem to me en-
tirely fitting that the Commission should recommend more municipal lodg-
ing houses, larger county institutions for the poor, increased public charities
of various kinds, an extension of the free public employment bureaus, and
other means whereby the workers will be persuaded that the practice of
self-help and the rendering of mutual aid among their own class is an un-
necessary virtue.


But I believe it would be much better fo consider these laborers as cit-
izens, who have duties to perform to themselves and to their fellows, rather
than to view them merely as workers who have only to accept jobs from em-
ployers or charity from public or private institutions. And in this I am sure
you, as one member of the Commission, will agree with me.



By Mary McDowell, Adolph Petratis, E. L. Talbert.

The sub-committee on the relation of immigrant labor to unemployment
desires to submit the following statement:

A series of questions has been sent to social settlements and other wel-
fare institutions for the purpose of finding out the extent of casual labor
among immigrant men and women, both in domestic service and odd jobs
amd in stores and factories. Another questionnaire has also been sent to
representative manufacturing establishments, both large and small.

We have some interesting statements from those engaged in social
service agencies as to the causes, extent and prevention of unemployment
of foreign people, but the data are largely inexact, representing the impression
of those busy with many activities in specific localities.

From the manufacturers the returns have been disappointing, partly
because the employers do not record the needed information, partly because
they have not time to delegate one of their employees to go over the books.

We wish to outline some of the suggestions offered by the respondents
to the questionnaire sent to social welfare agencies. One of the questions
asked was: "Will you suggest remedies for the conditions due to casual
labor of immigrant men and women? Do the slack seasons of some indus-
tries occur when other industries are working full time? Could the workers
be shifted from one plant to another, thus guaranteeing steady work for

1. A number of answers may be grouped under the general heading,
"Education." It was suggested that provision be made to train women in
house-work and needle-work, since it was agreed that immigrant women
were often inefficient and unsteady. The same thing is true of the men.
Several respondents urged that men be better trained industrially that they
may fit into several industries and be able to shift from one to another.
How this training of unskilled immigrants during idle periods is to be done,
and who is to do it, was not offered. It was contended that insecurity and
low wages were often due to the ignorance of the men in regard to our
language and customs, and consequently, that competent advice in regard
to the best places available should be provided.

In addition to the need of educating workers, it was said that employers
themselves do not appreciate their responsibilities and often do not know the
hardships borne by their employees. One person thought that the employer
should engage a leader of each nationality, whose business should be to advise
and understand his countrymen and cultivate a spirit of co-operation and
sympathy instead of the prevailing indifference and even hostility of the
employee to the interests of the employer.

2. A second line of answers referred to the necessity of standardizing
wages and hours of work. Hotel and office-cleaning work for women is
somewhat standardized, but the estimates of wages and hours of women who
do odd jobs show that this is not true. The women have as a rule no guar-
antee of uniform hours and the wages vary from 75 cents to $2.00 per day.
The number of hours employed fluctuates greatly. Several persons said
that eight hours a day and five days per week ought to be the maximum for
a woman.

Similar conditions prevail in regard to men who do odd jobs, though the
information advanced was indefinite. Wages of unskilled immigrant men,


it was estimated, ranged from $8.00 to $11.00 per week, with frequent periods
of idleness.

3. In order to meet this situation, several persons urged the need, and
also the difficulty, of organizing the labor force, both of men and women.
Others thought that employers, if they wanted to, could manage to pay
higher wages and guarantee steadier work.

As regards seasonal work, the suggestion was made that by an under-
standing and union among employers, work in individual plants could be
steadied, and men could be shifted from one plant to another in some lines
of work. Selling at lower prices during the slack season was also noted as
a means to stimulate business. Many industries shut down in the winter
months instead of in the busy summer, according to many answers, and it
was judged that in some cases this could be changed by employers.

This query was offered: Is it possible for the city to employ men in
street cleaning, construction work, etc., during the slack seasons?

4. A final group of questions related to the province of the state and
the municipality as regards the control of unemployment.

There was first the indefinite statement that state legislation could dp
something to standardize wages and dovetail the seasons of unskilled immi-
grant labor in the various industries. Second, it was maintained that there
was now no efficient clearing house for all grades of workers, that we have no
reliable knowledge of the industries in the community, that there is no com-
petent employment bureau which advises men and women, which compre-
hends the shifting state of industry in city and country and really controls
the situation.

In our judgment the information which we are able to gather is inade-
quate. It expresses opinions and impressions, but has little scientific value.
It is necessary to work out a systematic line of investigation and employ
competent persons who can devote their entire time and attention to this

Respectfully submitted,


Committee on Casual Immigrant Labor.

By Thomas W. Allinson.

Mr. Louis F. Post, Chairman, Immigration Committee of the Commission of

Dear Sir: Pursuant to your assignment of a sub-committee to investigate
unemployment as a cause of charitable relief among immigrants, I beg to

1. That your committee has canvassed the various public and private
agencies which are called upon for relief by immigrants, including the
Swedish, Polish, Bohemian, German and other national societies, the United
Jewish Charities, the B'nai B'rith Free Employment Agency, Shelter House,
Salvation Army, the United Charities and the Cook County Agent.

2. Your committee does not find- that any of these agencies have their
records in such shape that the accurate and detailed information desired
could be readily ascertained. In the cases of the United Charities and the
Jewish Societies such data could be obtained by competent persons going
through their files, and attempts have been made by these societies to detail
their cases, but the pressure of work upon them has not permitted this to
be done. Your committee, lacking volunteers who could undertake this
work and being without financial resources to employ such service, has been
unable to do this.


3. Your committee submits, however, this information:

(a) From the County Agent's report the number of persons receiv-
ing relief, and the number and percentage giving unemployment as a
cause, for the calendar years 1908, to 1911, were:

1908. Total, 11,714 4,195 35.8%

1909 Total, 9,309 2,211 23.7%

1910. Total, 8,191 1,338 16.3%

1911 Total, 10,654 2,080 19.5%

(b) The United Charities reports out of eight of its ten districts,
from October 1, 1911, to March 1, 1912, the following:

Of 7,919 cases assisted, 2,521 claimed unemployment as the cause of
distress an average of 32%, as against a normal average approximating
20%. The term "cases," as used, generally means families, and few
single men.

(c) A comparison of the records of the Jewish Aid Societies shows:

1910-11 Total cases 6,991

1911-12 Total cases 7,771

1910-11 Cause of unemployment 638

191 1-12 Cause of unemployment 1,196

1910-1 1 Insufficient earnings 1,235

1911-12 Insufficient earnings 1,335

An increase of from 9 to 15 per cent.

(d) By far the most informing reports covering the field are those
of the Immigration Commission "Immigrants as Charity Seekers,"
Senate Document No. 665, Vol. 1. This volume, on pages 157, 158, deals
with cases assisted by the United Charities of Chicago December 1, 1908,
to May 31, 1909. This report is suggestive as well as informing, and will
well serve as a basis for drawing conclusions. The three years that have
passed in no way invalidate its findings, nor have any new facts devel-
oped to materially change the situation as presented.

This point should always be borne in mind: That Chicago, by reason
of its geographical situation and terminal facilities, is most easy of access
from all parts of the country, and thus is frequented by persons out of work
and on the verge of pauperism to a greater degree probably than any other
city of the country.

Respectfully submitted,

Chairman, Sub-committee.



By Miss Grace Abbott, Miss S. P. Breckenridge, Louis F. Post.

An exhaustive report on immigration statistics with reference to unem-
ployment in Chicago, while it might probably be within the province of your
committee, is not within its power to offer. All we find reasonably possible
under the circumstances is to refer generally to such sources of statistical
information as may throw some light upon the general inquiry and to report
specifically upon such as either disclose important facts or suggest lines of
further inquiry and verification.

In the annual report of the Commissioner General of Immigration to
the Secretary of Commerce and Labor for the fiscal year ended June 30,
1911, there are statements that would be highly pertinent and significant
if they were verified. An example appears at pages 5 and 6. Here we find
immigration characterized as "a business in the fullest sense of that term,"
and one in which in its present condition, national difficulties "are increased
rather than reduced by the various schemes private, charitable and public
that are being operated or advocated and advertised for the general distri-


bution of aliens." With reference to and in explanation of this statement
the report in question proceeds: "So far as trans-oceanic immigration is
concerned, the greatest beneficiaries are the steamship lines; with respect
to Mexican peon labor, the large employers and labor agencies." In the
same connection this official report asserts, at page 6, that "such concerns
as railway lines, constructing contractors, meat-packing houses and the like,
using large numbers of unskilled laborers, are always glad to have a surplus
on hand so as to be kept in position to keep wages at the minimum." Further
emphasis of this alleged condition may be found on pages 117, 118, in the text
of the same report. We quote it literally: "Much of the immigration which
we now receive is artificial, in that it is induced or stimulated and encouraged
by persons and corporations whose principal interest is to increase the
steerage passenger business of their lines, to introduce into the United
States an over-abundant, and therefore cheap, supply of common labor, or
to exploit the poor, ignorant immigrant to their own advantage by loaning
him money at usurious rates; or, as now so frequently happens, in the organ-
ized and systematized state of the business, a combination of the three ele-
ments, so that money-lenders and ticket agents abroad, the transportation
companies and the labor brokers and large employers of common labor here,
each receive their portion of the benefits and proceeds." These statements
are not supported by the published data; but they are made so positively
upon official responsibility and are of so much significance with reference
to the problems submitted to the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment
in Chicago that your sub-committee would recommend a thorough investi-
gation, if the means for making it were available. In any inquiry into the
causes of unemployment a solemn official assurance by a great federal bureau
to the effect that employers are deliberately over-stocking the supply of
labor in order to depress wages should not be disregarded.

As to the number of immigrants that actually come to Chicago, there is
no definite information. The annual report of the Commissioner General of
Immigration referred to above gives their declared destination by states.
For example, in the report for the year ending June 30, 1911, we find (pages
32-34) that out of a total of 878,587 immigrant aliens admitted in that fiscal
year the intended future residence of more than one-eighth was in the Chi-
cago region, as follows:

Illinois 76,565

Indiana 8,482

Iowa 8,829

Wisconsin . . ... 14,613

Missouri 11.243


There are no such statistics with reference to Chicago particularly, and
if there were they would probably throw little light upon the subject under
consideration. Even these statistics as to the general region may be away
from the actual facts. On the one hand, immigrants going elsewhere than
to their recorded destinations would diminish the drift of foreign immigra-
tion toward this city, while those recorded for other destinations but com-
ing into the Chicago region would increase it.

The thirteenth census of the United States (1910) shows that the pop-
ulation of Chicago increased 28.7 per cent from 1900 to 1910, as compared
with an increase of 54.4 per cent during the previous decade (Abstract of
Statistics of the Number and Distribution of Inhabitants, p. 43); and the
density of population in Illinois increased from 68.3 persons per square
mile to 86.1 in 1900 and to 100.6 in 1910. Nine other states have greater
density than Illinois. Figures are not yet available indicating how far this
increase is due to immigration during the past decade.

In order to decide whether the demand for labor has kept up with the
increase in population we should have figures showing the increase in the
number of men employed. But on this, information is even more meager.
The Thirteenth United States Bulletin (1909) of Manufactures shows that


the per cent of increase in the average number of wage earners employed is
manufacturing in Chicago from 1899 to 1904 was 9.4 per cent, and from 1904
to 1909 was 21.5 per cent. How many of these are recent arrivals we cannot
conjecture, but the figures seem to indicate that so far as manufacturing is
concerned the increased demand for labor has kept pace with the increased

And this would be a fair inference from the larger facts of industrial
life. As larger sellers of labor, increased populations could hardly exhaust
opportunities for employment at a rate much greater than they would them-
selves maintain as larger consumers of labor products.

In 1907 Congress provided for a United States Immigration Commission,
which was to investigate immigration in all its aspects and report its find-
ings to Congress. During 1908 and 1909 the Commission spent over half a
million dollars in collecting material, and finally, in 1911, submitted a report
of forty-seven volumes. Before presenting its report the Commission sub-
mitted its conclusions. Among others: That there exists an over-supply of
unskilled laborers in the United States, which is made up principally of the
recent immigrants, and therefore recommended restriction by means of a
literacy test. This conclusion is, however, not susceptible of proof by any
figures as yet available. Adequate proof that the maximum supply of labor
either meets or exceeds the maximum demand cannot be given until there
is some registration of unemployment through a comprehensive system of
labor exchanges, which will show how much the apparent unemployment is
due to bad adjustment and how much to seasonal employment without ade-
quate wages.




The Committee on Relief and Unemployment has investigated (1) the
extent to which the relief granted in charitable institutions of Chicago is

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryChicago. Mayor's Commission on UnemploymentReport of the Mayor's Commission on Unemployment → online text (page 11 of 27)