Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Poverty - Its Causes And Remedies

( Originally Published 1915 )

The Extent of Poverty. One can better come to an appreciation of a problem if he can have a few figures, rather than general statements, to assist his imagination. In 1905 85,290 individuals were reported in almshouses in the United States, and 80,346 more in permanent homes for adults, these latter being chiefly aged and incurable dependents. Besides these there were 92,289 in orphanages and homes for children and 25,466 in municipal lodging houses and temporary homes.' As long ago as 1890 a number of authorities estimated that at least 3,000,000 people in the United States, or one twenty-fifth of the population, were receiving aid which was reported. And Professor Bushnell estimated that the annual cost of supporting this army of dependents was not less than $200,000,000 or an amount equal to one tenth of the total wages paid by all the manufacturing plants of the country.

Robert Hunter estimated, in 1904, that, in addition to those dependent, there were 10,000,000 of our population who were " much of the time underfed, poorly clothed, and improperly housed," who were, in other words, in poverty. This is, of course, only an estimate, but it is based upon such indications as the following : in 1897 29 per cent, and in 1899 24 per cent of the people of New York State applied for relief. After excluding one half of those who applied for dispensary help, the statistician still finds the percentages mounting up to 19 per cent and 18 percent respectively for those two years ; and if all dispensary cases are omitted, still 12 per cent of the population of the state of New York applied for relief. In Boston, in 1903, 20 per cent of that city's population were aided by public relief authorities alone ; and in that same year 14 per cent of the families living on Manhattan Island were evicted from their houses for non-payment of rent. Statistics showed, furthermore, that io per cent of those who die in the borough of Manhattan are buried in the potter's field. And the United States Census for 1900 demonstrated that about r00,000 persons in New York were unemployed from four to six months of the year. On the basis of these figures it was estimated that 14 per cent of the people of New York State are in distress.'

Yet, if in. this country the situation as suggested by these figures is bad, the figures available for Great Britain show a condition fully as bad or worse.'

Immediate and Remote Causes of Poverty. The causes of poverty are not easily discovered for the reason that they may extend over a long period of time in their operations and may arise from many sources. Indeed, such is the case as regards all sociological phenomena. There may be immediate causes which are easily discernible ; but there are always other deep-seated causes, that, through a chain of events, reach back to remote or primary forces. Nevertheless, by statistical determination or case counting, we can obtain sufficient data to classify most of the primary causes of poverty.

Characteristics of the Individual. First, there are characteristics of the individual which, arising from hereditary influences, always indicate weakness of some sort, although the extent of hereditary influence in inducing poverty has not been fully determined. Recent studies, however, throw a very interesting, though somewhat uncertain, light upon the relation between poverty and both physical and mental degeneracy. For example, Goddard, in his study of the Kallikak Family, showed that a considerable number of the descendants of the feeble-minded Martin Kallikak, Jr., were also shiftless and more or less dependent on others for support ; and on the basis of some study of the question, Goddard estimates that 50 per cent of the inmates of almshouses are feeble-minded.' While this is the estimate of one who, because he deals constantly with one particular defect, may be somewhat biased, and while the estimate must be held subject to the correction of further investigation, it is the opinion of a man who has studied feeble-mindedness more closely, perhaps, than any other in this country, and it stands as a challenge to anybody to disprove it by an independent investigation. Miss Kite's The Pineys, Dugdale's older study of The Jukes, McCulloch's The Tribe of Ishmael, Blackmar's The Smoky Pilgrims, Danielson and Davenport's The Hill Folk, and Gesell's The Village of a Thousand Souls are reports of other investigations which supply indications that degeneracy may be a potent cause of poverty.

It must not, however, be understood that poverty is a defect which can be inherited. The suggestion is that poverty may be a result of some hereditary defect like feeble-mindedness, insanity, or some other inheritable trait of a degenerate character, but there are certain influences of environment which, at the present stage of social science, seem very much stronger than those of heredity, so far as inducing poverty is concerned. What is the relative importance of the two factors it is impossible to state at this time except in very general terms. A broken-down nervous system, certain diseases like syphilis, and such characteristics of individuals as are inheritable, cause failure in the struggle for existence and certainly are not to be overlooked in search for the causes of poverty. Nevertheless, the preponderance of evidence is in favor of external conditions as the greater cause of poverty ; for causes of this sort are much more numerous and, as far as present knowledge goes, seem to affect many more people than do the inheritable defects. But how environmental conditions may affect the production of inheritable degeneracy we are not able to say absolutely, although there is some evidence pointing to the fact that degeneracy is induced by bad natural and social conditions. These two classes of influences often operate together; and they enter into each of the causes to be discussed in the following sections.

Undervitalization and Indolence. There are many people who, because of certain biological characteristics, are under-vitalized and who, in consequence, have an indolent nature.

Such people have great difficulty in overcoming obstacles to be met in the struggle for wealth or for mere existence, and it would be impossible for such people, without complete change of physical and mental characteristics, to overcome the inertia which leads to poverty.

There is no way as yet known to science by which people who are born deficient in vitality may have this defect remedied. Negative eugenics have been proposed as a method by which the birth of abnormal individuals may in the future be prevented by keeping such living individuals from having offspring. This end could be gained either by an operation to render impotent their generative organs, by life segregation, or by some manner of inducing them to refrain voluntarily from parenthood. Positive eugenics, on the other hand, endeavors, by the promotion of selective mating, to secure a new generation produced by parents who answer to the tests of such vigor and mental alertness as are desirable in social beings. These suggestions are interesting; and negative eugenics, as applied to the manifestly abnormal classes, deserves serious consideration. It is doubtful, however, whether we know as yet enough concerning heredity to warrant our going further with selective mating than the education of people to the importance of clean, strong parenthood.

Disease. In his tables in American Charities, Warner has given us sufficient evidence to show that sickness is the greatest single cause of poverty. Devine says that 75 per cent of all poverty is immediately due to disease' not 25 per cent as is usually supposed. And investigations carried on in Buffalo, Boston, New York, and other large cities show that sickness is the prime cause of poverty. Thus, while we still need to know the social conditions causing sickness, it is of value to .know the extent of this proximate cause. However independent a family may hitherto have been, if sickness leaves the wage earners unable to work for their daily bread, to say nothing of being unable to pay for medicines, doctors, and nurses, the family may perhaps never recover from its calamity. And not only may disease leave the bread earners unfitted for work for many months or years, but by causing death, it may leave a dependent family helplesss. Perpetual poverty accompanies such unfortunate conditions.

Many things can be done, however, to diminish the importance of this grave cause of poverty. The conditions, for example, which produce undervitalization, such as bad housing and unsanitary conditions about a city or a rural home, can be changed ; and by means of education, the conditions under which people work may be improved. There should be wise factory laws and fair hours, a minimum wage law in the unorganized industries, and carefully devised laws regulating the employment of women and children. Moreover, there should be dissemination of information concerning the causes of disease, protection against diseases by proper vaccination and quarantine regulations, and early attention to the first signs of disease and the prompt removal of their causes. There should be many safeguards and measures such as these.

Lack of Judgment. Many people, though well-meaning and industrious, fail to exercise a wise economy in applying their earnings to the purchase of food, clothing, and implements of general use. And since they are but poor managers of their own affairs, they are unable to cope with the difficulties that beset them in the world about them. There is nothing truer in the world of poverty than the sentiment, long ago expressed, that " Poor men have poor ways." On the other hand, there are many who, for a time, have felt the grinding heel of poverty, and by means of courage or skill in management, have risen to a position of independence. Wise in choice, thrifty in management, and careful in the use of articles in their possession, such as these are possessed of characteristics which go far towards the maintenance of their independence and the gradual increase of their wealth even on comparatively small incomes. In strong contrast are those, who, with opportunities for advancement, either fail to seize them, or in attempting to take advantage of them, find themselves unable to manage ; for, no matter how many good things come their way, their poor methods will counteract all their efforts to rise. People who have had much to do in attempting to relieve the poor have found it impossible to help individuals of this class without furnishing some method of supplementing this lack of poor judgment. To such an ex-tent is money squandered, are opportunities neglected, and the wrong choice made, that all attempts toward independent existence are neutralized.

The introduction into the schools of compulsory home economics will do much for the cure of this evil. To-day the wives are the spenders of the incomes ; and up to the present wise training has been lacking. Often too busy in their school years to study household management at home, and deprived of any such training in the schools, our housekeepers are often wasteful in their household management. Nor is the thing to be wondered at. And even if they have had some experience at home, how often has that home training included proper instruction in buying?

Safe and sound investments for small investors would, of course, help in the solution of the problem. The Postal Savings Bank provides opportunities for the investment of savings, as do the enterprises of many banking institutions and certain building and loan associations. Such encouragement given to the man working for small wages does much to promote thrift. But these agencies for saving need to be in-creased in number and improved in the strength of their appeal to the poor ; and to supplement them, there is need of an educational campaign and the creation of a social ideal and social customs which will check the present tendency towards wasteful expenditure and will tend to promote saving. Indeed, the place to begin is at the top, among the upper classes of society ; for we are a nation of wasteful spenders.

Unhealthful Appetites. People who have unhealthful appetites are not lacking in formidable enemies to thrift and independence. These unhealthful appetites are usually cultivated, although the hereditary influence sometimes appears in a system so weakened that the body and mind are susceptible to all evil influences. While the influence of intoxicating liquors has been entirely overestimated as an actual cause of poverty, it is nevertheless a strong factor in destroying an individual's power of independent action. Many families live in squalor, want, and helplessness, because the bread-earner persists in spending his income at the saloon, where he daily lessens his earning capacity and his chances to compete with his fellows. Liquor, as a beverage, is always a waster, and often a destroyer, of mental, moral, and physical capacity ; it interferes, in the long run, with industrial efficiency and is increasingly a cause for discharge from employment.

Alcohol in excess attacks the seat of the will power in a peculiar way ; for it destroys moral courage, a quality highly essential to success. Narcotics in excess are like drugs ; for, while tobacco, for example, may not be considered as vitally destructive to the human system, it affects the nervous system and in many cases destroys the efficiency of individuals especially when taken in excess by the young. And since it is likely to be more expensive than either the drug or the liquor habit, it rapidly absorbs the surplus cash of the individual addicted to it. On the other hand, the use of morphine, opium, cocaine, and similar drugs, taken for the purpose of drowning trouble or relieving pain, quite frequently leads to poverty and a long train of attendant evils.

Laws regulating the number and conduct of saloons, and provisions aimed, like those of the Gothenberg system of Norway, toward removing the profit from the sale of strong drink, would do something to cure these evils. But even more important are educational measures for teaching people the facts as to the effects of alcohol and narcotics not, of course, the pseudo-science now taught in most of our schools, but the results of careful scientific investigations. Along with these measures must go the removal of the causes of drink, both physical and social. Unstable neurotic conditions in men and women often induce a craving for drink, just as bad nutrition, overwork, and worry may. In order to remove the causes, therefore, attention must be paid to the conditions under which people live and work. Again, people drink for social reasons ; for alcohol and narcotics promote genial flow of sociability. But the substitution of other means of social stimulation, as furnished by recreation and social centers, will, it is believed, do much toward displacing the demand for artificial stimulation now furnished by alcohol and other drugs.

A depraved sex appetite is no less conducive to poverty than the love of rum. Still as true as in the days of the Hebrew Sage are the words, " For on account of a harlot a man is brought to a piece of bread."' The recent report of the Vice Commission of Chicago estimates that 5,540,700 visits to prostitutes are made annually by men in Chicago alone, and at a total estimated expenditure, on the part of these men, of $15,699,449.

It may be noted in passing, however, that these millions of visits are made by an estimated 200,000 of Chicago's men.' From these figures some idea may be gained of the enormous waste in money alone which is imposed upon this class of men by uncontrolled sex appetite. And of course, these enormous figures take no account of the expense involved in dealing with diseases arising from vice, of loss of earning capacity, of the suffering and death that falls to the lot of innocent wives and children, as well as to the guilty husbands and fathers.

What part uncontrolled sex impulses, exercised in normal relations, may play in reducing physical efficiency, we have no means of knowing until physicians make public the knowledge they are able to obtain in their practice. Nor do we know how great are the inroads of private vice upon growing children. In both these ways, doubtless, unfettered natural impulse lays a heavy tax upon the physical and mental efficiency of the race, because what is controlled in the animal by instinct is supposed to be controlled in man by reason ; and the sanctions of reason are less powerful and more uncertain in their operations than are those of instinct.

Forbidding Personal Appearance. Many people have a great deal to overcome on account of a something called personality, which depends not merely upon physical structure or mental attitude, nor entirely upon clothing or personal habits, but is a combination of all these in making one man an agree-able personality and another the opposite. To a certain extent, of course, a personality may be cultivated or improved ; but in a large measure it depends upon hereditary characteristics and early training. However, he who is afflicted with a disagreeable one, can, to a certain degree, be taught to have a pleasant address and a neat appearance ; and he may possess a genuineness and sincerity which will make up for the lack of many other things. Yet the fact remains that one man will apply for a position and be turned away, while another will easily succeed in obtaining it ; and there may be no other reason than that the second has a pleasing personality, and the first has not. But it sometimes happens that, after a man with unprepossessing personal appearance is once employed, his really pleasing character comes to the front and overcomes first impressions. But such is not always the case. When it becomes necessary to reduce the force of laborers, although skill may seem to be the first consideration, it frequently occurs that the disturbing, disagreeable person is the first to go. The quarrelsome, unsocial individual, by creating a perpetual disturbance, destroys labor power and is, therefore, not wanted ; the one who survives to-day is the one who has a strong, socially cooperative nature, who can work uncomplainingly with others and for others.'

Shiftlessness and Idle Habits. Arising from certain individual characteristics, shiftlessness becomes a sort of habit. Sometimes these characteristics are inherited, but often they are the result of disease. The shiftless, indolent " poor white trash " of the South were once looked upon as inherently lazy ; but recent investigations have shown that two millions of people in this country are suffering from hookworm, and as a consequence of decreased efficiency, are causing an economic loss of at least $50,000,000 a year? Again, in other sections, malaria has so depleted the vitality of the inhabitants that they have the reputation of being lazy. The shiftless man does his work poorly and half-heartedly ; and he avoids, or at least delays, any excessive labor, wasting his time because of his inertness. He leaves the windowpanes out and thus increases the expense of fuel ; he leaves the vegetables unprotected in the garden, so that the frost comes and destroys them. The furniture deteriorates for the lack of care ; and, in fact, everything is lost because of this lack of economy and thrift. Individuals of this sort cannot help being poor so long as such habits control them.

There is no cure known for the person who is inherently lazy and shiftless. If he is such by reason of disease, because he lives in bad conditions, or because he has become discouraged, something can be done to help. A thoroughgoing fight against the disease which saps his vitality will repay the effort ; the removal of a family from bad sanitary and housing conditions will sometimes supply the incentive to stir them to industrious habits; and their removal to a community where their bad habits will not be popular will sometimes stir their sluggish spirits to action.

Unwholesome and Poorly Cooked Food. Many people have been rendered poor through the use of poor food ; many may attribute their failure through life to the dyspepsia or other maladies acquired through the lack of proper diet. It has been demonstrated it is possible to keep a laboring man in good health on food that costs fifteen cents a day. It is frequently true, however, that a good steak is rendered unpalatable and unnutritious by the cooking, and it not infrequently occurs that laboring men who use a poor quality of poorly cooked food revert to stimulants in order to counteract the evil effects. Poor food leads to malnutrition and engenders weakness or disease. Moreover, it is only recently that another test than the appetite has been suggested as to what to eat. Investigations by Professor Atwater showed that people do not as a rule buy those articles of food which have the highest nutritive value relative to their cost.' Domestic Science is now working on the problem of ascertaining the food value of different articles of diet and the twin problem of how to combine different articles in menus so that the maximum of satisfaction in taste and the greatest nutritive value may be combined in a meal. This will do much to assist the poorer classes in reducing the high cost of living and contribute to the reduction of this cause of poverty.

The Disregard of Family Ties. Disregard of family ties has contributed directly and indirectly to poverty. Many people have become poor through broken families. Frequently the father deserts the wife and children, leaving them in a helpless condition, or less frequently the mother deserts the father and children. Sometimes by separation through divorce the children are scattered and rendered homeless and helpless. Moreover, it sometimes happens that the bickerings of husband and wife render home a place of wretchedness. Such conditions represent a dissipation of individual and social forces and render all concerned less efficient as bread earners, and lead to social maladjustments out of which grows poverty. Nor must it be forgotten that the home is the original economic unit. It is the center whence radiates into the lives of the coming generation economic ideals and methods, which, if the home is broken up or is not what it should be, are learned much less thoroughly elsewhere. A good system of family desertion laws will help solve the problem of poverty due to desertion, but the other cannot be reached without giving much more attention by society to the art and science of home making from every point of view which affects the economic efficiency of the workers and of the managers of business and of those who preside in the homes of the country. Schools of domestic economy will do much for the women, but they will not touch seriously the side of the problem pertaining to the men, and for neither the women nor the men will they give that intimate touch of emotion which makes the ways learned in childhood hold with vise-like grip. The home must also be preserved for the inculcation of the virtues of industry, perseverance, and adaptability to circumstances and those moral and spiritual qualities which have no small part in the making of efficient economic and social personalities.

Influences of the Physical Environment. A good many causes of poverty are wrapped up in bad physical or natural conditions. Among these may be enumerated the inadequate natural resources, such as the poor soil, lack of water, or other means of support. With the growth of means of easy and cheap transportation and the development of the habit of migration, this cause of poverty can be partly remedied. The migrations from the crowded and often infertile regions of Europe to America, Australia, and South America are illustrations of one way in which the difficulty can be met.

Again, there are bad climatic conditions which affect the health, strength, and prosperity of individuals. Sometimes these conditions may not be overcome. Often, however, the wit of man combined with capital can change such conditions. Climate, as it affects crops, is manageable by adaptation of kind of crop to the climate. Once it was thought impossible to raise corn in Minnesota and Wisconsin. By the production of new varieties a corn has been found which can be raised successfully in those northern states. Then there are plant and animal parasites which frequently destroy the means of wealth production and leave the people impoverished thereby. So wonderful has been the advance of science, however, that there is hope now that every plant inimical to man's prosperity will either be so changed that he can make use of it, or that it will be exterminated. The success of agricultural experts during the past quarter of a century has been so great that the task appears by no means to be hopeless. Every year now sees some new process invented to check the ravages of pests which ravage the farmer's fields and destroy his crops. Again, accidents are caused by natural forces, such as floods, earthquakes, storms, and drought, which give individuals such severe reverses as to destroy their independence. Defective drainage, also, leaving swamps that produce disease, may impoverish a whole community through sickness and frequent death.

Many of these causes are dependent more or less upon the judgment of individuals in presuming to reside where Nature will not give them sufficient support or where she destroys them through her violence. Yet, on the whole, many of them can be remedied by society. Accidents caused by natural forces are now being lessened by the campaign of " Safety First," by the invention and adoption of safety devices, and when they do occur the loss involved is distributed over society by various kinds of insurance against accident. Drainage, while yet in its in-fancy so far as great tracts of land are concerned, is bound to become more general as land becomes more valuable and the population denser. The recent agitation concerning the evil effects of undrained pools and swamps on health together with the growing popular concern for health which has resulted from the newer medical discoveries relating to the causes of disease will do much to secure further work in reducing this cause of poverty. At the same time it will make available for cultivation an area of new land which will help much to provide people with cheap land, homes, and an opportunity for economic in-dependence.

Influence of Social Environments. Poverty may be developed through bad associations. The crowding of the poor into large tenement houses where there is insufficient light and air breeds and intensifies poverty. The evil influence of improper housing cannot be overcome by ordinary charity to the individual, for it has been found that if bad home surroundings cannot be changed, it is idle to hope for any permanent improvement in the inmates. Evil associations in general beget idleness, shiftlessness, and evil habits, and induce the conditions favorable to poverty. The defective sanitation usually found in such overpopulated districts adds to the general evil effect. Overcrowding breaks down the ordinary decencies of life, demoralizes the family life, induces vice, under-mines the health, and destroys hope. When the overcrowding becomes as great as in some of the great cities, like London and New York, land values go up, and the type of house changes from the small, inexpensive cottage to the large costly tenement. Consequently the man of small means finds it impossible to own his own home. In all of Greater New York City in 1910 only 11.7 per cent of the homes were owned by those who occupied them, while in the borough of Manhattan only 2.9 per cent were owned by the occupants.' He lacks that fine incentive to save in order to pay for a home a tangible thing appealing to some of the most fundamental feelings. Much is being done in recent years to build good homes and tenements for the people. Rapid transit systems with cheap fares, allowing people to live at a distance from the crowded centers of business and manufacture, and the distribution of manufacturing plants away from the crowded centers of population yet near enough to enable them to command a sufficient supply of labor and to secure the requisite shipping facilities will do much to prevent the overcrowding now so frequent in our great cities. The large tenements were built to enable men to rent cheap dwelling places and yet get an adequate return upon their investments. They have failed, however, in that they provide barracks instead of homes.

Even more important in producing poverty are the evil associations provided for children and adults. Not only do " evil communications corrupt good manners," but they sow the seeds of inefficiency by promoting bad habits and false ideals. The most debasing influence of the saloon is perhaps not the alcoholic liquors sold there, but the conversation, the contact with loafers, criminals, and degenerates who find there their refuge. Combine such associations with the influence of alcohol and you have a potent engine for the debasement of manhood, for the promotion of false ideals of home and family life, and for the production of industrial inefficiency.

Almost as bad is the lack of measures and methods for the fruitful, constructive employment of people's leisure time in recreation of an uplifting nature. Must men and children be worn down towards inefficiency and poverty even in their pleasures? Yet, until recently there was no thought given to the production of agencies for rendering men more efficient through their recreation.

The playground provisions of some of our large cities are doing much to take away the curse of depraving influences from people's leisure time. Much yet remains to be done, how-ever.' Along with their further development both in extent and in provision for the adults, there must go repressive or regulative measures for the saloons, bad dance halls, amusement parks, vicious theaters and moving picture shows. Along with these measures must go the development of the social centers.

Defective Government. Legislation in favor of one individual or class may be to the detriment of other individuals or classes and may lead indirectly to poverty. In many instances we find defects in the judicial machinery, having a tendency to render injustice to very many people, and causing them to lose their position in the industrial and social life. Again, improper and unjust penalties sometimes are imposed which in them-selves are detrimental to the progress of the individual. Legislation and its interpretation by the courts may be a very efficient means for the advancement of the material interests of society, by removing conditions which lead to poverty, and by developing conditions of industry and thrift. It may also shape the economic development of a nation in a measure and influence the wealth-creating power of individuals or groups.

The remedy for bad legislation is said to be better legislation. " Aye, but there's the rub." What constitutes better legislation? What shall be the test? And how shall we get it?

Whatever else better legislation may secure, it will provide less for special interests and more for the interests of all the people. It will, indeed, not overlook the material development of society, but it will see that in that development the interests of the public are not forgotten or bartered away forever for a song. On the other hand, it will not forget that " man does not live by bread alone "; it will keep constantly in mind those large interests which we include sometimes under the general term " the social welfare " education, recreation, and " the pursuit of happiness."

We shall not get such legislation by the present practice of political jobbery and the prevailing haphazard methods, political products of an imperfectly socialized group mind. Growing out of an extreme individualism in political theory the present system of lawmaking with its ever present log-rolling is based upon the social theory that as each lawmaker representing the interests of his part of the state strives to secure the enactment of laws favorable to his community, each part of the state will secure the legislation which is best for it and so the interests of the whole state will best be served. To a degree the theory is true. The theory is, however, false in that it assumes that there are no general state interests which may conflict in a measure with the interests of certain communities, and yet are vital to the welfare of the state. Before general state interests can predominate over local interests there must arise a state consciousness as opposed to a merely local consciousness, and the welfare of the state as a whole must sit at the center of attention in the lawmaker's mind. A wider dissemination of information as to the interests of the state as a whole will generate a state consciousness. The political theorists have suggested certain measures which will help to secure better laws, such as having fewer legislators, fewer bills introduced, and more mature consideration given to each one. The second of these we are beginning to secure in a clumsy fashion by a provision that no new bills may be introduced after a certain day of the session has been reached. The first has yet to win its way to an established position in political theory. The last named can be secured in part by securing the first two, by a lengthening of the session if necessary, but best by the establishment of a legislative reference library with a staff of experts to make a comparative study of legislation in other states and in foreign countries so that the administrative experience of previous experiments may be available on which a sane judgment concerning any proposed measure may be based, and with other experts to draft bills, so that less of the business of our supreme courts will be to throw on the junk heap of unconstitutionality much of the legislation passed at each session of the lawmaking body.

Misdirected and Inadequate Education. Education to be of the greatest service should have reference to the conditions of life of those to be educated and their prospective future. All education should aim, among other things, to train the individual for self-support. It is not intended here to suggest that all education be made up entirely of the so-called vocational subjects and simply prepare for the commercial and industrial life, but the industrial element should be made universal in all education, for the first business of a good citizen is to be a producer and thereby a bread-earner. Until recently a boy could not get an education in a trade at public expense unless he committed a crime and was sent to the industrial school or the reformatory. While the sociologist would be the last to exalt the making of a living over the making of a life, he believes that the making of a decent living for himself and family is the sine qua non of making a life which is worthy of the name. Happily, a beginning towards supplying this lack in our school system has been made. Much, however, remains to be done to make education do its full share in the prevention of poverty.

Furthermore, how many of our paupers are such because they have some physical defect which might have been corrected had it been discovered in time ! Recent studies have shown that some children who fail in school are suffering from poor eyes, poor nutrition due to bad teeth, deafness due to adenoids and enlarged tonsils, and other physical defects easily corrected. Other investigations indicate that there are more of the retarded and dull pupils who are mentally defective than we ever suspected. While these cannot have the defect removed, they can be discovered, and special educational treatment given them in special classes, or in special institutions, and they can be segregated so as not to entail their defect upon the next generation. Medical inspection in the schools, though only quite recently introduced in the United States, in contrast with its long establishment in some of the countries of Europe, has spread widely and is doing much to teach us some of the causes of the failure of the schools to prepare pupils for life.' Tragic in its significance is the fact brought out by some recent studies of the occupations chosen by pupils who left school at the end of the compulsory school age to earn a living. Large numbers were found in " blind alley occupations " messenger, bell boy, cash girl, clerk and common laborer in which they were earning their maximum at twenty years of age. From that time they slowly gravitated down toward dependency. Vocational guidance in the schools, based upon a close study both of the youth's aptitudes and upon the prospects in the various trades and vocations, has been proposed to correct this defect of our educational system. Certainly every youth, ignorant often of his own capacities and generally quite unacquainted with the comparative opportunities offered by the various vocations, has the right to expect some one in this great society of which he is a part, to give him counsel on these vital questions. He has a right to know something of the nature and promise of different occupations for his own sake. Society owes it to herself to give him that guidance. In many places it is being done with considerable show of success.' Coupled with this defect is the frequency of inadequate education. Children are allowed to be out of school, either at work or in idleness, when they should be preparing more thoroughly for the work of life. Many of these pupils could have accomplished much more and become industrially independent, had longer training been given them. Stricter compulsory education laws, courses better adapted to their needs, and continuation schools, will do something to aid in correcting these defects of the educational system?

Bad Industrial and Economic Conditions. Frequently a community has such bad industrial conditions that they are conducive to the wealth of a few and the poverty of many. When the control of the sources of wealth falls into the hands of comparatively few people, there are indications that a certain number of individuals will fail to have sufficient income for their support. Moreover, there are various changes that occur through the shifting of economic society, either through what might be called natural or arbitrary social causes, which induce conditions of poverty. Among these might be named the variations in the value of money ; trade depressions, like those of 187o, 1893, and 1907 ; changes in trade and industry, brought about by improved machinery, such as occurred in England following the industrial revolution ; the shifting of industry caused by invention and discovery, an example of the former being supplied by the displacement of hand-weavers by machines after the invention of the power loom, and of the latter by the impoverishment of the New England farmers upon the opening up of the rich farming lands of the Mississippi Valley ; excessive or ill-managed taxation, as in the pre-Revolutionary days in France; the undue power of class over class, well illustrated by the supremacy of the aristocracy in Russia, and of the " coal barons " in the United States ; and the immobility of labor, much more noticeable in former times than now and in a country like Russia than in the United States. Enforced idleness of wage-earners is a potent cause of poverty and the most difficult of all to overcome.1 All of these have, at various times and in different degrees, influenced the social population, causing it to degenerate.

Each of these conditions in varying degrees is amenable to correction. Variations in the value of money are not under absolute control, especially over long periods of time. If a new discovery of a basic metal like gold is made or if through war or some similar catastrophe an enormous waste of capital occurs, the value of money is bound to vary. With every increase in the amount of gold available the influence of new discoveries of the metal is diminished unless the demand for gold increases equally with the new supply discovered. On the other hand, any monetary device which makes gold less necessary as a base, unless the base is thereby made less stable, would tend to make less likely fluctuations in its value due to this cause. The abolition of war by arbitration and international conciliation would remove a very important agency of waste, and would therefore make the value of gold more stable.

Commercial crises, economists tell us, are the result some-times of an over-extended credit, often of an unsound money system, sometimes of an interruption of the ordinary channels of trade by war, or the fear of war. Anything which disturbs the ordinary course of national or international commerce when industrial conditions are strained helps to precipitate a panic. Measures, therefore, which prevent frequent and profound changes of commercial policy within a nation, and between nations, make less likely the crises which ruin people and press most heavily upon the poor. If the time ever comes when war and the fear of it no longer paralyze business and turn the laborers in shop and on farm into destroyers of life and property, one of the important causes of poverty will be removed.

There seems no way at present to obviate entirely the often terrible cost of progress incident to the introduction of new machinery and methods, which often means the displacement of workers by a machine and their consequent poverty because they find themselves unable to adapt themselves to a new occupation. A more general education in youth, thus making the individual more adjustable to changed conditions, has been suggested as a measure that would help solve the problem. The present tendency, however, is towards making the worker merely a cog in a machine and therefore the less able to adjust himself to a new situation. Sometimes the workers have organized and resisted the introduction of labor-saving machinery, but that means greater cost of the article to the consumer.

A like situation exists relative to the hardships involved for some in inventions and discovery. Unless society is willing to sacrifice all progress inventions cannot be repressed. These must go on, for they mean ultimately better conditions for the greater number. This kind of poverty is a cost of progress which society must pay. Society can prevent, however, the burden falling entirely upon a single class. By means of a system of pensions and social insurance the cost could be spread out over the whole social group.

By the ironing out of fluctuations in trade and industry, as suggested above, much of the enforced idleness of laborers would cease. A practical system of employment bureaus would take care of others. A system of insurance against unemployment, along lines similar to the systems existing in Germany and England, would help to distribute the burden over society more equitably.

Thus, by such measures society is struggling with these socially caused maladjustments which involve the poverty of many.

Unwise Philanthropy. One of the greatest causes of pauper-ism is unwise philanthropy, for it induces people who are poor to become dependent. As is stated in the next chapter, wise charity seeks to teach people to help themselves and to develop independence and thrift through material and spiritual aid. Much that is called charity is nothing more than almsgiving. An indulgence in a maudlin sentiment which destroys the spirit of independence and undermines self-help is antisocial. Scientific charity will relieve distress and teach people to help them selves by making it impossible to become habitually dependent upon others. It will make every effort to prevent pauperism. It aims to take such measures as will enable people to remain independent, or, if dependent upon others for a time, to make that period as short as possible. Real charity does not try to relieve of their responsibility those upon whom the burden of support naturally falls. It endeavors to help the natural sup-porters, however, to carry their burdens as easily as possible. Modern charity believes that relatives rather than the state should support dependents, but it will do all it can to help those relatives to secure work by which they may do the task with honor and independence. Giving to a beggar on the street probably will confirm him in dependency ; he will learn that a living may be obtained more easily that way than by labor. Giving to a family without knowing their circumstances may determine a career of pauperism for them. Investigation, careful records to enable others to whom such a family appeals to know their history and what is being done for them by others, and efforts at securing them an opportunity to earn an honest living are absolutely essential in our complex civilization in our great cities where few people know their neighbors, would we give helpfully. Service as well as immediate material help is imperative. The world has been slow to recognize these principles, but at the present an increasing number of people are becoming aware of their existence and believe in their possibilities.

To remedy the evils growing out of unwise philanthropy principles of scientific charity, principles, while not final, because they are developing, which are based upon the experience of those who have dealt most extensively with these problems, have been adopted, They have been most thoroughly worked out by what is called organized charities and certain German municipal experiments in dealing with poverty to be described in the next chapter. These principles to succeed must be applied both by private and public relief officials and receive the enthusiastic moral support of every private organization which gives relief and of every philanthropic individual. I They must be worked into our public relief system, which for the most part today in America is actually medieval in its methods, no investigation, scarcely any records worthy of the name, and little cooperation with the private agencies which are trying to intro-duce constructive methods. Some of the experiments of foreign cities might well be tried here with certain modifications. The vagrant and those unwilling to work must be made to work. Combined with these measures must go the preventive social devices described in the preceding sections. We have only just begun to attack the problem of poverty. To some it seems hopeless, but to those who are in the closest touch with this grave problem and who know most about the failures of our best methods, but who also know that these modern methods have never had a fair chance, there is nothing but promise. It is they who talk of " the cure of poverty."

Summary. As the causes of poverty are numerous and varied in nature so attempts to prevent it must come from many sources. To sum up the matter, we may conclude that among other things are improvements in industrial conditions through the process of social evolution and governmental influence, such as steadiness of employment at a fair remuneration, stability of industrial and financial conditions, justice in taxation, government, and legislation. Again, improvement in modes of living, such as better housing, good home surroundings, improved sanitation, better care of the personal health, and profitable recreation and amusement. The change in personal characteristics through education by developing thrift, energy, prudence, sound judgment, and the power to labor, is a means of the prevention of poverty. So likewise, the change in personal habits, the disuse, or at least temperate use, of liquor, tobacco, narcotics, and the abolition of selfishness and the pro-motion of love in the home, with purity of life, all tend to develop the character of man and to remove him from a possible state of dependence. As sickness is one of the chief causes of poverty the removal of disease through science and legislation are important measures of prevention. Add to the foregoing, scientific charity, which helps persons at the right time and in the right way, and poverty will gradually grow less as the years pass.


Charities Review, Vol. II, p. 279 Vol. IV, p. 142; Vol. VII, 922.

DEVINE, ED. T. Principles of Relief.

DUGDALE, R. L. The Jukes.

HENDERSON, C. R. Modern Methods of Charity.


RICHMOND, M. E. Friendly Visiting, pp. 140165.

Rus, JACOB. The Children of the Poor; The Battle with the Slum. Report of the Committee of Fifty on the Liquor Traffic.

WARNER, Amos G. American Charities, Revised Edition, 1908, Chaps. IV, VII.

WRIGHT, CARROLL D. Practical Sociology, pp. 324343.


1. Make an estimate of the extent of poverty in your own community. (If a small place you can get the information by going to the town and county relief officers and from common report as to who has received help.)

2. Make a list of the evil social consequences of poverty among families of which you know, e.g. how many boys never had a chance at a proper education, how many girls "went wrong" because of poverty, etc.

3. Classify the poor families with which you are acquainted in your community under as many of the heads in the chapter as you think are necessary to account for their poverty.

4. What is your community doing to remedy or prevent poverty? (Make a definite list of the things.)

5. What is your community not doing that it might do to cure and pre-vent poverty?

6. Suggest any other methods of meeting the poverty problem than those mentioned in the text.

Outlines Of Sociology:
Poverty - Its Causes And Remedies

Charities And Charity Organization

Crime - Its Causes And Prevention

Social Degeneration

Administration Of Charitable And Correctional Affairs

Field Of Investigation

Methods Of Investigation

Social Philosophy

Science Of Society

Read More Articles About: Outlines Of Sociology

Home | More Articles | Email: