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I N T RO D U C T I O N The Cause of the Unemployed “The aim and object of this march to Washington has been to awaken the attention of the whole people to a sense of their duty in impressing upon Congress the necessity for giving immediate relief to the four million of unemployed people.”1 Jacob Coxey, 1894 L I K E M A N Y A M E R I C A N S F A C I N G the ravages of an economic depression that began in 1893, John Schrum’s face was hollowed out from hunger. Having lost one eye, his tall, gaunt visage seemed all the more emblematic of the conditions that plagued millions of Americans in the new industrial era. For Schrum, his wife, and their oneyear -old child, every day turned into a struggle for survival. Living in tiny Brazil, Iowa, Schrum worked in the local coal mines. But when the railroad construction bubble burst, many of the steel mills that supplied the rails closed. Then those coal mines that provided the coke for the steel shuttered as well. Like millions of other Americans, Schrum found himself suddenly without work and alone, to fend for himself and family.2 As the depression grew worse in the winter of 1894, Schrum became more desperate. Though he had joined the Iowa Miners and Mine Laborers Association, one of the many newly formed fraternal brotherhoods of workers dedicated to improving working conditions and bettering wages, the union could not help those like Schrum once they lost their jobs.As the winter wore on, one author described,“The silence of distress is more tragic than its loudest clamor. This is, indeed, the winter of our discontent.” Out of work and, as Schrum would later describe to a reporter,“because starvation was staring me in the face,”this unemployed coal miner picked up and traveled to Massillon, Ohio, to join a march of the unemployed to Washington, DC, a march ironically being organized by a successful businessman and employer named Jacob Sechler Coxey.3 No one seemed to know exactly how many men like Schrum were searching for work following the collapse of the stock market on May 5, 1893. 2 I N T RO D U C T I O N However, three months after the market’s disastrous failure, the reputable business journal Bradstreets suggested that about nine hundred thousand were without jobs.By December Samuel Gompers,head of the newly formed American Federation of Labor,estimated that three million workers were on the streets. In the new and still unfamiliar corporate economy,America was awash in statistics but none that accurately measured employment. The 459 pages of the 1894 Statistical Abstract of the United States dutifully reported measurements of the tons of exports and imports,the value of precious farm and mineral commodities, and the assets and liabilities of banks, among others. However, statistics on the number of jobless were lacking.4 Sporadic efforts to count the poor began as early as 1824, when the state of NewYork determined that some seven thousand of its citizens were living in poverty.But not until 1878 did the state of Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics attempt to count how many in that state actually were out of work. The US Census Bureau posed questions about employment as early as 1880, but the disappointing and confusing data it collected discouraged any official estimate. In 1884 the newly established federal Bureau of Labor began an investigation into the causes of the economic malaise and what it called the “surplus of labor,” rather than “unemployment.” Similar studies were conducted in many of the nation’s largest cities. But such inquiries failed to reach definitive conclusions, nor did they suggest any remedies.5 Moreover, there was simply no sense of urgency to getting the numbers right. Indeed, the very idea of being unemployed was at odds with the dominant laissez-faire business ideology of the nineteenth century that revered individual enterprise and self-reliance. Everyone who wanted to work was supposed to be able to find a job.Those without jobs were generally frowned upon and viewed as indolent,or even worse,naturally flawed.Even the most prominent charitable groups conducted anti-tramp campaigns in an effort to distinguish what they considered a more select group of “worthy poor,” those generally thought to have respect for the work ethic but who had temporarily fallen on hard times...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609091972
Related ISBN
9780875804989
MARC Record
OCLC
1017611811
Pages
160
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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