Winifred S. (Winifred Stuart) Gibbs.

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UNIVERSITY of CALIFQRNl/i

AT

LOS ANGELES

LIBRARY



THE MINIMUM COST OF LIVING



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

NEW YORK • BOSTON • CHICAGO ■ DALLAS
ATLANTA ■ SAN FRANCISCO

MACMILLAN & CO., Limited

LONDON • BOMBAY ■ CALCUTTA
MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.

TORONTO



;^'



6

THE MINIMUM COST OF LIVING



A STUDY OF FAMILIES OF LIMITED
INCOME IN NEW YORK CITY



BY
WINIFRED STUART GIBBS

SUPERVISOE HOME ECONOMICS, NEW YORK ASSOCIATION FOR
IMPROVING THE CONDITION OF THE POOR, LECTURER IN
HOUSEHOLD ARTS, TEACHERS COLI-EGE, COLUMBIA
UNIVERSITY, AUTHOR OF " ECONOMICAL COOK-
ING," "food for the INVALID AND
CONVALESCENT," — ETC., ETC.



^m fnrk

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1917

All rights reserted

. 39343



MAX 1 8



COPTBIOHT, 1917

By the MACMILLAN COMPANY
Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1917.



INTRODUCTION

One of the chief aims of an organization like the
Association for Improving the Condition of the
Poor is to help others to help themselves. It is
frequently more helpful to teach a given family-
how its income can be made to more nearly meet
its needs than to supplement their income with
relief. This is always the case if their income is
sufficient when wisely used to meet their actual
necessities although it may not be sufficient even
for them unless used wisely with much planning.
Perhaps one of the most essential factors in thrift
in family expenditures is careful planning. Care-
ful planning inevitably means a systematic record
of expenditures. Making this record in itself is of
the greatest use in developing thrift and lays a firm
foundation for profiting from errors in thrift —
from hasty poor judgments in expenditures. No
corrective is more effective than a record of an
unwise expenditure.

It was with these thoughts in mind that the



vi Introduction

Association for Improving the Condition of the
Poor developed some two years ago a simple but
practical family budget book for the use of families
known to the Association over continuous periods
of time, that is, families in which the dependency
either because of widowhood or of chronic sickness
was relatively long continued, usually ending only
with the coming to working age of children in these
families. The use of this systematic method of
recording family expenditures has been most
beneficial. An interesting thing about it is the
interest which these families themselves take,
somewhat contrary to expectation, in keeping the
record. Incidentally, much useful information has
been collected as to the food habits of families
of moderate incomes in New York City. It has
seemed worth while to present in some detail the
results of this systematic record of family expen-
ditures in a typical group of families and to inter-
pret these in the light of what it is reasonable to
hope can still be accomplished in the direction of
education of such families to further increase the
usefulness of their income in terms of better food,
better clothing and better housing. The assem-
bling of this information has been made by Miss



Introduction vii

Winifred S. Gibbs who has for the past ten years
been in charge of the Division of Home Eco-
nomics.

(Signed) Bailey B. Burritt,
General Director, New York
Association for Improving
the Condition of the Poor.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

PAGE

Foreword xiii



PART I

THE STUDY AS A WHOLE

Chapter I

Object of the Study 3

Description of the Families 4

Method Employed in Making the Study 5

Data on Which the Study was Based 10

Kind of Records Kept by Teachers 11

Chapter II

Discussion of the Estimate of Minimum Require-
ment for Rent, Food, Fuel and Light, Clothing,
Insurance, Sundries 13



Table of Contents



PART II

EXPENSE ACCOUNTS OF THE SEVENTY-FIVE
FAMILIES

PAGE

Estimate of Needs One Month and Twelve Months

for Each Family 31

Actual Expenses Twelve Months 31

Actual Income Twelve Months 31

Summary 31



PART III
WHAT THE STUDY REVEALED

Chapter I

Living Conditions Before and After the Study 49

Comparison of Living Conditions and of

Health Conditions 49

Classification of Families According to Income. 50

Famihes Showing Surplus and Deficit 51



Table of Contents xi

Chapter II page

Housing Conditions 56

Percentage of Income Spent for Rent 56

Number of Rooms per Family, Private Toilet,

etc 57

Classification of Rent According to Number of
Rooms 58

Chapter III

The Seventy-Five Dietaries in Detail 60

Classification of Food According to Size and

Composition of Families 74

Percentage Spent for Food 74

Conmients, Comparisons, Conclusions 75

Chapter IV

The Clothing Budget 78

The Study of the Clothing Budget 79

Comments, Difficulties of Standardization, etc. . 81

Chapter V
Fuel and Light 86



xii Table of Contents

Chapter VI page

Incidentals 89

Discussion of Results of Insufficient Provision

for the Item 90

Carfares, Insurance 90



FOREWORD

In 1906, the Dean of a technical college said to
the writer, *'I can find plenty of girls who realize
the value of Household Art courses in school, and
plenty who teach these courses well. What I
want now is someone on the firing line who will
show my students how to connect their classroom
work with the real questions of the day."

The women who did the work on which the
present study is based are all on the ''firing line."
The work was begun ten years ago by the New
York Association for Improving the Condition of
the Poor. The first purpose was to give simple
lessons in diet and cooking to the mothers of
underfed children. These families were all under
the care of the Association. It was soon found,
however, that in order to do any constructive work
and really help the families, the food problem
could not be considered independently. As the
work developed the family budget as a whole
came to be the foundation for all instruction. The
dietitian based her diet and cooking lessons on the



xiv Foreword

food budget; the sewing teacher based hers on the
clothing item. The family budgets dealt with in
the following pages were, of necessity, on a min-
imum basis. The word minimum is used to denote
certain results of work done. This work included
observation of results for the purpose of determin-
ing the lowest sum on which the families could
maintain health and working power. This was for
the purpose of making best use of the money in
hand, and never for the purpose of keeping the
families on a low standard. The families were
those of widows, who, by reason of the death of
the wage earner, had been granted a definite
monthly cash allowance. This allowance was
based on a carefully planned estimate of needs.
Furthermore, the Association hoped by the fixing
of such an estimate, and by a record of its working
out to be of direct service to other families whose
incomes were practically the same as that allowed
these famiUes. The results of this experiment are
set forth in the following pages. Because of the
lack of margin it was necessary to give careful
attention to each item so that no one should rob
the other.

The workers have endeavored to present a piece



Foreword xv

of work in which the human element should be
brought out, but one in which this element should
be related definitely to a sound scientific back-
ground. Direct good to the families has been the
chief aim. It is hoped, however, that the results of
this instruction can be so formulated as to be of
service to all who are concerned in our present day
industrial and social problem.

The following field workers have made this
study possible: — Mrs. Emma Carter Schultz,
Miss Marion Mudge, Miss J. B. F. Parramore, Dr.
Bertha F. Johnson, Miss Elisabeth Banks, Miss
Margaret Schmidt, Miss Elizabeth Guilford, and
Miss Bessie G. Chamberlayne. They have con-
tributed unstinted personal service with the
families and enthusiastic professional cooperation
in the division.

The writer extends grateful acknowledgments
to Professor Henry C. Sherman and Professor
Robert E. Chaddock of Columbia University and
to Dr. C. F. Langworthy, Department of Agricul-
ture, Washington, D. C, for helpful criticisms and
suggestions.

W. S. G.



PART I
THE STUDY AS A WHOLE



THE MINIMUM COST OF LIVING

A STUDY OF FAMILIES OF LIMITED INCOME
IN NEW YORK CITY

CHAPTER I

Object of the Study

From Sir William Petty in 1672 to Dr. Robert
Coit Chap in in 1906, each study of the family
budget has made its own contribution to the sum
of human well-being. The earlier workers under-
took these studies primarily that the resulting data
might be used to improve social conditions. Their
viewpoint was the broadly social, and contact with
individual families ceased when the families had
contributed the necessary information. Further-
more, much of the field work was done by those
whose interest ended when the actual gathering of
data was completed.

The present study was also begun in the hope
of making a contribution that might help to im-
prove social conditions. The immediate plan, how-
ever, was to so far improve family groups that they
might become stronger units in the future. Those



4 The Minimum Cost of Living

in charge of the work had a decided advantage
over their predecessors in that their field workers
were women specially fitted by training and inter-
ests for the doing of such work.

Expense accounts were collected from one hun-
dred and fifty families, but in order to make the
study concise seventy-five were chosen for pres-
entation. These seventy-five families are typical
of the income groups represented in this study.

Briefly, the families reported upon fall into the
following groups according to size :



3 families — widow and two children



26




" tliree


19




" four


15




" five


5




" six


6




" seven


1 family




" eight



According to nationality they form the following
groups:



American 19

English 1

German 17

Italian 5



Irish 28

Scandinavian 2

Austrian 1

Bohemian 2



The function of the Home Economics work of
the Association is fundamentally educational. Its



Method Employed in Making the Study 5

aim is to establish each family on the basis of a
seK-sustaining unit. Therefore, the results of the
present study are presented as nearly as possible
from the standpoint of the normal.

METHOD EMPLOYED IN MAKING THE STUDY

For the first few years budgets were kept in a
very informal way, but in each case they were used
as a basis for the lessons planned. In 1914 sys-
tematic budget keeping was begun in the families
of more or less fixed income. By means of these
expense books the women have learned to view
their home problems as a whole. They have been
trained to accurate thinking and to accurate ex-
pression. They have learned habits of thrift from
the mere record on paper of their expenditure.
Finally, they have had the advantage of comparing
the records and results of bad dietary habits with
good, and have learned in the same way to re-
organize their expenditures for the other items of
the budget.

The Association cares nothing for tables of
statistics that stop at tabulation. The tabulations
must point backward to some good accomplished
and onward to possible increased good in the



6 The Minimum Cost of Living

future. Dr. Chapin has said that in compiHng
results of such work: "Both the intensive and the
extensive methods are valuable and should supple-
ment each other. With the extensive method to
give breadth and perspective, and the intensive
study to give color and definiteness to the outlines
obtained by the extensive method, the study of
the family budget can best be made to bring out
'the standard of living.'"

In formulating a plan of work, in each family the
workers collected information and made plans
somewhat as follows:

Summary of the economic situation in
each family:
Instruction in budget making.
Instruction m carrying out the budget

planned.
Plan of dietary needed by individual

family.
Plan of clothing needs.
Lessons in cooking.
Lessons in sewing.
The first step in getting this information was to
hold a friendly conference with the housekeeper.
Few of the women were accustomed to ''taking



Method Employed in Making the Study 7

account of stock." A clear statement of the
family resources was followed by careful instruc-
tion as to how best to divide the income. One
point should be emphasized — the women were to
a large extent given freedom of choice, the expense
accounts being controlled only by advice.

Someone has called a budget a ''financial
prophecy." The women in the present group were
taught that to make a budget meant to forecast a
future of improved health and freedom from the
wear and tear of a hand-to-mouth existence. The
word ''food" came to stand for something besides
the unpaid grocery bill. "Clothing" began to
fulfill its chief mission — that of helping to con-
serve the family self-respect and happiness. In
short, the housekeepers learned to adjust their
expenditures so that the account books were
genuine human documents.

The advance from their customary slipshod
methods to systematic adjustment was not made
in a day. Slowly and patiently housekeeper and
teacher worked together. The progress was slow
but the results satisfactory. One of the women
had never learned simple addition. In her zeal to
have a satisfactory expense book she taught her-



8 The Minimum Cost of Living

self to add. Her method at first was to group all
the figures of the same denomination together,
make separate additions of each group and then to
arrive at the grand total by a process equally
intricate.

The women were taught to care for the chil-
dren's food needs first. It was not always easy to
convince them of the necessity for this, since busy,
tired mothers were apt to say — ''The children
must take just what we do." Instruction there-
fore included planning of a dietary which would
fill the children's needs and satisfy the adults'
tastes without undue elaboration of cooking proc-
esses.

From the beginning the teachers realized
that the clothing budget must be very carefully
planned. Necessarily the sum fixed was somewhat
meagre. It was felt, however, that a carefully
administered clothing allowance would do much
to increase the general morale of the family. As
in the case of food a slipping to a low standard in
matters of dress came almost invariably from
fatigue, ill health and the resulting loss of desire
and power to think and plan. The direct influence
of neat and suitable clothing can hardly be over-



Method Employed in Making the Study 9

estimated. It is perhaps in this item that the lack
of margin in the budget was most keenly felt.
Practically all of the families, however, were
recipients of gifts of clothing from friends and
relatives at various times throughout the year,
which served somewhat to supplement the amount
allowed for this item. As is the case with most
mothers, nearly all of these women sacrificed their
own tastes and comfort in clothing so that the
children might be neatly and attractively dressed.

These lessons were used as one of the means to
the end of family upbuilding. The cooking les-
sons were planned with the food item in the budg-
et as a basis. The sewing lessons bore a similar
relation to the clothing item.

Before the granting of the cash allowance ex-
pense accounts were simply records of daily pur-
chases. When the form was made up for the
present expense books experience of former years
was the chief deciding factor. It was felt that the
budget page must do more than afford a place for
record of expenses. This page in order to be of the
greatest use must show an analysis of purchases,
so that the dietitians could see at a glance whether
the family was having too much or too little of any





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12 The Minimum Cost of Living

one food. The sewing teacher must be able to
decide as to whether the clothing allowance was
being wisely spent. Inevitably such a page must
require much detail work. The accompanying
form has been in successful use for two years. The
housekeepers have a separate set of loose leaves
fastened together with brown paper covers for
each month. This provides an easy way for check-
ing the transfer of the surplus or deficit as the case
may be, to the book for the following month.

The aim was to draw up a form of record that
would show just what were the needs in each
family from a home economics standpoint, what
instruction was given and what were the results.
The present sheet is now in use in many homes,
and gives a satisfactory picture of each family for
the year. The rise or fall of the dietary from
month to month, the fluctuations of the income
and the record of instruction give data that is
valuable far beyond the limits of the home in
which it is gathered.



CHAPTER II

The Estimate of Minimum Requirement

Obviously such an estimate was necessary by
way of beginning, but it was equally true that the
workers must keep an open mind towards the
weaknesses as they developed in their own es-
timates. Furthermore, they must strive for
flexibility so that these standards might prove
guides rather than hampering boundaries.

In this preliminary discussion only the main
consideration governing the estimate will be set
forth. The theoretical '4deal division" of the
economists is of value only as a starting point,
since it is not practical to follow it in detail.

Ideal Division

Operating "Higher

Income Rent Food Expenses Clothing Life"

$800-1000 20% or 30% or 10% or 15% or 25% or

$160 to $200 $240 to $300 $85 to $100 $120 to $150 $200 to $250

With the above estimate in mind it may be of
interest to trace the actual possibilities of an in-
come of $800 to $1000 in New York City.

13



14 The Minimum Cost of Living

Practical Division

Education
Operating Recreation &

Income Rent Food Expenses Clothing Sundries Saving

$800-1000 average $150 $290-390 $39.00 fuel & $120-190 $48-78 Nothing,

light left when

48 . 00 sundries sundries and

12 . 00 insurance emergencies

93 . 00 carfare & have been

lunches provided for.

$192.00 total

Providing the breadwinner worked continuously
this would leave slender provision for the in-
numerable unexpected needs that arise in every
household, not to mention recreation and savings.
As a matter of fact, every working year has many
grievous breaks. Illness and strikes and holidays
and ''slack times" are a few of the factors to be
reckoned with.

Fortunately those who live in Greater New
York have the opportunity for much healthful
recreation at little or no cost.

We hear much of "living standards" — but the
vital spark of such a standard cannot be expressed
in figures. One must be in contact with the daily
lives of the families in order to appreciate the ad-
vance from discouragement to ambition. Only in
this way can the figures express the good which
has actually come to the homes.



The Estimate of Minimum Requirement 15

The chief items in the estimate will now be con-
sidered in detail.

Shelter

Housing conditions in the poorer districts of
New York City are characterized by a dreary
sameness. On into the miles run streets of sordid
tenements. Each of these tenements looks much
like its neighbors, the chief difference being that
one house may have three stories and another
four; one may open into a court at the side, while
still another may boast, '^AU Hght rooms." This
question of shelter had been largely settled by the
families themselves before the study began. It
was understood that they had decided this ques-
tion by securing the home neighborhood for the
maximum of — shall we say negative comfort? — to
be had for the amount within their means.

The rent item was estimated at $12.00 monthly
for an ''average family" of five. This gave fairly
comfortable quarters and allowed "IK persons to
a room."

Food

The ration allowance used in this study was the
standard one worked out for A. I. C. P. famihes.



16 The Minimum Cost of Living

In standardizing this allowance it was necessary
to consider a large group of families, and to so
express the results as to give figures that could be
used by staff members outside the Home Econom-
ics Division. Obviously it was not practical to
formulate a dietary every detail of which could be
followed. Therefore, the ration allowance was
based on the accepted dietary standards of Pro-
fessor Atwater, estimating the needs of the various
members of each family according to the age
factors proposed by Atwater and used by the
Department of Agriculture.

The table of units for making up food needs in
each family is as follows :

Table of Units

Man (17 years and over) 1 .

Woman (16 years and over) 8

Boy 16 years 9

" 12 years-13 years, inclusive 8



" 10

Girl 14

" 10

Child 6

" 2



-11
-15
-13

- 9

- 5



" under 2 years 3

Professor Atwater's calculations were based on a
standard that called for 3,500 calories per unit per



The Estimate of Minimum Requirement 17

day. This meant a man at moderate muscular
work. In fixing the food standard for all families
in the Association certain things were taken into
account. For instance, frequently the man was
not employed, or was in ill health. Many of the
famihes were widows' families. Nevertheless
in all families the needs of a man were taken
as the unit. The unit standard adopted for A. I.
C. P. famihes was 3,000 calories per unit per
day. This gave an allowance that might be called
an adequate minimum on which to base the needs
of women and children. It was not practical to
have a changing unit standard for each family.
It was thought safe in the practical working out
of the dietaries to use the Atwater scale in spite
of the fact that the unit basis was 3,000 calories and
not 3,500.

The ration allowance made up from this plan
was used with excellent results for eight years
before the beginning of the study.

The bills-of-fare possible were fairly satisfactory
from the point of view of attractive variety. To
administer the food allowance properly meant
careful buying, much thought in combining the
foods and great care in their preparation. During



18



The Minimum Cost of Living



the time of the study this diet could be purchased
at the rate of twenty-seven cents per unit per day.


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