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Pauperism in the United States.

Professor Richard T. Ely, formerly of Johns Hopkins University, now of the University of Wisconsin, contributes the following to the study of this question:

While we may deplore the lack of careful statistical information concerning pauperism in this and other countries, there are certain facts which we do know. First of all is this fact: there exists in the United States an immense mass of pauperism. No one knows either how great this mass is, or whether it is relatively, or even absolutely, larger than in former times. Several States in the Union, as New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, publish statistics concerning the defective, delinquent, and dependent classes, but many of the States gather no statistics at all, or very inadequate ones. Such statistics as we have cannot well be brought together and compared, because they have not been collected in the same year in different States, nor have they been collected according to similar methods. The word pauper in one State means one thing, and in another State something else. For example, dependent children are in one place classed among the paupers, and in another place they are put in a category by themselves.

The only authority competent to gather the facts which we ought to know for the whole country is the federal government, and it has attempted to do something in the various censuses. The census reports, however, have been heretofore incomplete and unsatisfactory. Mr. Frederick H. Wines, a high authority, was the special agent of the tenth census appointed to gather the statistics concerning pauperism, and he reported altogether about 500,000. This, however, is an underestimate. Only a little over 21,000 out-door paupers were reported, whereas a single city undoubtedly has a larger number receiving public relief [89] outside of public institutions. It is admitted in the report that “the attempt to secure anything like a complete or adequate enumeration of them in the present census was a failure.” “The present census” means the census of 1880.

At the sixteenth conference of charities and correction, in Omaha, in 1889, the committee on reports from States expressed the opinion that it was safe to estimate the number of persons in the United States receiving out-door relief at an average of 250,000 during the year, including at least 600,000 different persons. This same committee, including Messrs. F. B. Sanborn and H. H. Hart, did not regard 110,000 persons as an overestimate of the population of the almshouses of the country. Five States of the Union alone report nearly half that number. These are New York, with 19,500 inmates of almshouses; Pennsylvania, with 13,500; Massachusetts, with 9,000; Ohio, with 8,000; and Illinois, with 5,000. These States, however, do not include much over one-third of the population of the country. Mr. Charles D. Kellogg, the able and devoted secretary of the New York Charity Organization Society, has estimated that 3,000,000 people in the United States were wholly or partially supported by alms during a recent year, and that the support received by this number was equal to the total support of 500,000 paupers during the entire year. This estimate is based upon such facts as he had been able to gather, and even a guess from one situated as he is has some weight....

The number of paupers varies greatly from year to year, according to the general prosperity of the country and other causes, and even within the same year, according to the season. The estimate of 3,000,000 cannot be regarded as an extravagant one for the United States during hard times. We have, then, that number of persons who at some time or another are compelled to ask support which they will not or cannot obtain for themselves. If we should cut down this number to 500,000, it would be sufficient to cause distress to every lover of his kind, and to justify inquiry into the nature of pauperism, its causes and its cure.

Numerous estimates have been made of the direct and indirect cost of pauperism to this country. The direct pauper expenditures of the United States may be placed at $25,000,000 at least; indeed, this must be an underestimate, for New York State alone expends for charitable purposes through its various institutions over $13,000,000. If we place the average number of persons in the country supported by charity at 500,000, and estimate the loss of productive power for each one of these at $100 per year, we shall have an indirect loss of $50,000,000 to be added to the direct expenditures. One hundred millions of dollars a year must be regarded as a conservative estimate of the total direct or indirect pecuniary loss to the country on account of pauperism. A far more serious loss, however, is the loss in manhood and womanhood.

In contrast to this first fact of the great mass of pauperism, we have the second equally indisputable fact that it is for the most part a curable disease. Wherever there has been any earnest and intelligent attempt to remedy the evil, the success has been equal to all the most sanguine could anticipate. I have read accounts of many such attempts to lessen pauperism, and everything that I have read has confirmed in my mind the belief that it is a curable evil. A few illustrations out of a great number at hand must suffice for present purposes. The Elberfeld system of charitable relief is well known. About 1850 an earnest attempt was made in that city to deal with the question of pauperism. At that time the number of inhabitants was 50,000; in 1880 it was 90,000; but the number of friendly visitors required had not increased. The number needing help fell from 2,948 in the year 1853 to 1,287 in 1876, or from fifty-seven in the thousand of population to between fifteen and sixteen in the thousand. The city of Leipsic introduced the Elberfeld system in 1881, and in a single year the number of paupers fell off 2,000. Even England seems to have met with some success in dealing with pauperism, for the paupers comprised 5 3/10 per cent. of the population in 1863, 4 6/10 in 1871, and only 2 per cent. in 1882.

The experience of Buffalo, in this country, has been as instructive as it is [90] gratifying. During the first ten years of the existence of the Buffalo Charity Organization Society—namely, from 1877 to 1887—the pauperism of the city decreased, so far as statistics indicate, at least 50 per cent. Of 763 families dealt with by that society in 1878-79, Mr. Rosenau, the secretary, was able to state that, so far as he knew, 458 families had never been applicants for charity since 1879, and only 81 were met with in 1887. Mr. Rosenau further said that, if the citizens of Buffalo would furnish the society with funds and workers, the close of 1897 would see the city practically free from pauperism, and, he hoped, with very little abject poverty within her limits. Mr. Kellogg, of the New York society, in his fifth annual report, claims that of 4,280 cases treated during the preceding year , 697 became self-supporting by securing employment for them, by training them in industry, or by starting them in business. During the same year 1,508 cases treated during the first year of the society's existence were re-examined, and over 20 per cent. of these cases were known to continue self-supporting. Of course some of the others treated during the first year who could not be traced continued self-supporting.

There is reason to believe that there are adult paupers who can never be rendered entirely independent and self-supporting. Some of these are willing to work, but have simply not been furnished with qualities requisite for success in the competitive world of to-day, or their latent faculties, which might once have been developed, have been allowed to remain unused so long that their present development is practically impossible. These require permanent treatment in establishments adapted to them, where such powers as they have can be utilized for their own good and the benefit of society. With some others the trouble is not so much mental or physical as moral, and these require permanent treatment, severe but kind, in separate establishments. The first of these permanently helpless classes belongs to a certain extent to the imbeciles, while the second belongs rather to the criminal class. Both of these classes, however, are few in number, and all others can be redeemed. Nearly all children belong to the redeemable portion of humanity. This second fact states, then, this proposition: pauperism as now known may be considered a needless evil; in other words, in modern society there are sufficient resources to cure it if men would but apply them.

The third indisputable fact observed is that only slight effort is put forth by the community at large to cure the evil of pauperism. Mr. Rosenau has shown that only one in 713 persons, in thirty-two cities where there are charity organization societies which reported, contributed to their funds. These cities represented a population of about 7,250,000, and the number of contributors was only a little over 10,000. When we put this in contrast with the church-membership of the country, which comprises something like one-third of the population, or, if we count only adult members, one-fourth, we are reminded of the conclusion reached by Mr. Frederic Harrison and others that for social regeneration Christianity is a failure. Of course many cannot contribute money, but there is equal complaint of a lack of persons who are willing to contribute their time and sympathy as friendly visitors. Those who have read Tolstoi's book, What to do, will find there described the experience of every sincere friend of humanity who has attempted to secure genuine co-operation among the fortunate classes to help elevate the less fortunate classes out of their economic, physical, and moral wretchedness-namely, general but vague expressions of interest, with a final refusal of the aid needed. As in the parable of the New Testament, they all begin to make excuses . . .

What are the causes of pauperism? These causes are many, and they cannot be stated in any single sentence. The most general statement possible is that the causes of poverty are heredity and environment, producing weak physical, mental, and moral constitutions. If sociological investigations have made one thing clearer than another, it is that paupers are a class into which one is often born, and from which, when born into it, one can be rescued, as a rule, only by a change of environment. These [91] investigations show likewise that paupers are a class of inferior men. Inquiry was made at the Prison Association two years ago as to the chief cause of crime, and every expert in criminal studies was reported to have replied, “Bad homes and heredity.” The same reply may be given as to the causes of pauperism. Four different careful studies of the causes of pauperism have been made, two in New York State, one in Indiana, and one in Berlin.

The first which I have in mind was made by Mr. Richard L. Dugdale, and was called “The Jukes.” The ancestor of the Jukes is called “Margaret, the mother of criminals.” Mr. Dugdale estimated that 1,200 of this family in seventy-five years cost the community directly and indirectly not less than $1,250,000.

The second study was made in New York State under the direction of the legislature by the State board of charities. The investigation occupied the secretary of this board and various assistants for nearly two years, and the antecedents of every inmate of the poor-houses of the State were examined. Mrs. C. R. Lowell, who has been so active in the charities of New York State, and who has achieved a well-merited reputation, read a report on the results of this investigation. She describes typical women. The description of two cases may be quoted, and they will serve for all.

“In the Herkimer county poor-house a single woman, aged sixty-four years, twenty of which have been spent in the poor-house: has had six illegitimate children, four of whom have been paupers.”

“In the Montgomery county poor-house a woman twenty years of age, illegitimate, uneducated, and vagrant; has two children in the house, aged, respectively, three years and six months, both illegitimate, and the latter born in the institution; recently married an intemperate, crippled man, formerly a pauper.”

Mrs. Lowell says: “These mothers are women who began life as their own children have begun it—inheriting strong passions and weak wills, born and bred in the poorhouse, taught to be wicked before they could speak plain, all the strong evil in their natures strengthened by their surroundings, and the weak good trampled out of life.”

The third study to which I referred is that made by Mr. Oscar McCulloch, and is called The tribe of Ishmael. Mr. McCulloch, who is a clergyman in Indianapolis, found the poor and degraded in that part of the country closely connected by ties of blood and marriage. This band of paupers and criminals takes its name from one Ben Ishmael, who can be traced as far back as 1790, when he was living in Kentucky. The descendants of this family have intermarried with thirty other families. In the first generation we know the history of 3, in the second of 84, in the third of 283, in the fourth of 640, in the fifth of 679, and in the sixth of 57. We have a total of 1,750 individuals, with but scant records previous to 1840. Among these we find 121 prostitutes. Several murders can be traced to the Tribe of Ishmael. Thieving and larceny are common among them, and they are nearly all beggars. Looking back into the history of the family of Ben Ishmael, we find that three of his grandchildren married three sisters from a pauper family. Death is frequent among them, and they are physically unable to endure hard work or bad climate. They break down early and go to the poorhouse or hospital . . . .

The fourth of the studies is that made by city missionaries in Berlin a few years ago, and reported by Court Pastor Stocker. The ancestors of this criminal and pauper family were two sisters, of whom the older died in 1825. Their posterity numbers 834 persons. The criminalists are able to trace the history of 709 with tolerable accuracy. Among these there were 106 illegitimate children, 164 prostitutes, 17 pimps, 142 beggars, 64 inmates of poor-houses, and 76 guilty of serious crimes, who together had passed 116 years in prison. It is estimated that this single family cost the State over $500,000. It is worthy of note in this connection that the members of the Tribe of Ishmael are, as a rule, temperate, and total abstainers are found among the worst classes . . . .

There are those, undoubtedly, whose pauperism can be traced neither to heredity nor unfavorable environment, but they are comparatively few. Well-broughtup children of morally and physically sound parents seldom become paupers.

Perhaps the most careful analysis of [92] the causes of pauperism has been made by Professor Amos G. Warner, of the University of Nebraska. He presents the following analysis of the more immediate or proximate causes of poverty:

Analysis of the causes of poverty.

Characteristics :
    1. Undervitalization and indolence.
    2. Lubricity.
    3. Specific disease.
    4. Lack of judgment.
    5. Unhealthy appetites.
Habits producing and produced by the above:
    1. Shiftlessness.
    2. Self-abuse and sexual excess.
    3. Abuse of stimulants and narcotics.
    4. Unhealthy diet.
    5. Disregard of family ties.
1. Inadequate natural resources.
2. Bad climatic conditions.
3. Defective sanitation, etc.
4. Evil associations and surroundings.
5. Defective legislation and defective judicial and punitive machinery.
6. Misdirected or inadequate education.
7. Bad industrial conditions:
    a. Variations in value of money.
    b. Changes in trade.
    c. Excessive or ill-managed taxation.
    d. Emergencies unprovided for.
    e. Undue power of class over class.
    f. Immobility of labor.
8. Unwise philanthropy.

According to all careful investigations, intemperance plays a minor, although an important, role, the returns under this head depending largely upon the prejudices of the person making the investigation. One Prussian table of causes of destitution attributes less than 2 per cent. to intemperance. The tenth report of the Buffalo Charity Organization Society shows that during the period of its existence over 11 per cent. of the cases of pauperism were traced by its secretary to intemperance. In London Mr. Charles Booth—not General Booth—attributes from 13 to 14 per cent. of the cases to intemperance. There are others who attribute a much larger percentage of pauperism to intemperance, but nearly if not quite always a minority. Lack of employment, or involuntary idleness, is a more prominent cause of pauperism, and undoubtedly many cases of intemperance may be traced back to a period of involuntary idleness. The number of unemployed in England and Wales has been placed at 6,000,000, and in the United States at over 1,000,000, and an extremely small percentage is due to strikes or lockouts. Childlabor, which has assumed terrible proportions in recent years, and the employment of women must be placed among the causes of poverty, both of them tending to break up the home. Industrial crises are a chief cause of modern pauperism, it having been observed in every modern nation that the number of tramps and paupers increases immensely during a period of industrial depression. Many men, while seeking work during these periods, fall hopelessly into vagabondage and pauperism, and those dependent upon them are thrown upon the public.

What has been said about causes of pauperism makes it easy to understand the nature of the remedies required. It is necessary to go back of the phenomena which lie on the surface to underlying causes. Things which are not seen are of more importance than things which are seen. I have said that the two chief causes of pauperism are heredity and environment, and the question arises, How change these for the better? Fortunately the more powerful is environment, and that is the more easily controlled. The remedy is to break up these pauper and criminal bands, and at the earliest age to remove the children from their poisonous atmosphere. Wherever an attempt has been made to improve the children of the lowest classes by placing them in wholesome environment, the results have been eminently satisfactory. Not all, but a large majority, grow up to be independent, self-respecting, and respected citizens. Less may be done for adults who have once become thoroughly identified with the “lost and lapsed classes,” but even for most of these much can be accomplished by bringing wholesome influences to bear. The class regarded as most helpless of all is that of fallen women, but the Salvation Army's “Slum sisterhood,” consisting of young women of character who go among the most degraded, have secured success even among these. The secret is to go among these people of the submerged tenth as Christ went among men, sharing their sorrows and helping them with the personal contact of superior natures. Selfsacrifice, enjoined by true Christianity, is [93] the neglected social force which solves social problems.

Germany has a large number of “laborers' colonies” for the dependent classes, and these colonies have succeeded well, on the whole. It seems clear that there is a class which must be kept permanently isolated in asylums and subjected to kind but firm discipline. They are called by General Booth the “morally incurable,” and include those who “will not work and will not obey.” These are to be regarded, from the stand-point of competitive society, as social refuse, but they are not entirely useless on that account. Their own good requires strong government, which will utilize whatever powers they possess, and only in case improvement is seen in individuals among them should greater liberty be allowed to these relatively more hopeful cases. It is felt by all specialists in sociology that these hopelessly lost and lapsed should not be allowed to propagate their kind.

The analysis of applicants for relief made by American charity organization societies shows that the number of poor and worthy people is much larger than one would gather from superficial newspaper articles. Nearly 28,000 cases were analyzed, with this result:

Worthy of continuous relief10.3 per cent.
Worthy of temporary relief26.6 “”
Needing relief in the form of work40.4 “”
Unworthy of relief22.7 “”

It is difficult to say who ought to be called unworthy of relief, but evidently those are placed in that category whose trouble is above everything else moral, and among these are some who ought most of all to excite our compassion.

Turning now to more specific remedies, we may instance two which have been tried and failed. One is miscellaneous alms-giving, which has been a social curse, producing the very evil which we want to cure. Every time money is given on the street to a beggar without inquiry harm is done. The other remedy which has been tried is still advocated by some, and that is tract-distribution and preaching. Social reformers have long said that conditions must first be changed before we can work upon the individual by appeals to his moral nature. Social reformers have been much abused for emphasizing external circumstances, but they seem at last to have carried conviction to those actually at work among the poor. The late Mr. Charles Loring Brace, who worked successfully among the poor of New York City, although himself a religious man, warned us against the effort to cure the worst evils of the slums of cities by technical religious means. Mr. Brace speaks of a too great confidence in “the old technical methods, such as distributing tracts, holding prayer-meetings, and scattering Bibles,” and assures us that “the neglected and ruffian classes are in no way affected directly by such influences as these.” But if the testimony of a layman is doubted, we may quote the Rev. Mr. Barnett, rector of St. Jude's, in London, who tells us that “the social reformer must go alongside the Christian missionary.” The Methodists have generally as much confidence as any denomination in these technically religious methods, but the well-known Methodist minister, the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes, of London, says: “I have had almost as much experience of evangelistic work as any man in this country, and I have never been able to bring any one who was actually starving to Christ.” Let us hear the chief of the Salvation Army, who certainly does not underrate religious exhortation. General Booth says:

I have had some experience on this subject, and have been making observations with respect to it ever since the day I made my first attempt to reach these starving, hungry crowds—just over forty-five years ago—and I am quite satisfied that these multitudes will not be saved in their present circumstances. All the clergymen, home missionaries, tractdistributers, sick-visitors, and every one else who cares about the salvation of the poor. may make up their minds as to that. The poor must be helped out of their present social miseries.

Some specific remedies must, on account of lack of space, be merely mentioned. A prominent cause of misery in all cities is found to be early and thoughtless marriages. A public sentiment must be formed on this subject. The results are weak and feeble children, and often ultimate discouragement and pauperism on the part of parents unable to carry the burdens which they have taken upon themselves. A further development of charity [94] organization societies will he helpful. Friendly societies and trades-unions should be encouraged in every way, and the example of a few educated and cultured people not of the wage-earning class, who have joined societies like the Knights of Labor, ought to be more generally followed. The close association with one's fellows in these societies is most helpful, and this keeps their members from pauperism. Very few paupers are members of any trades-union. When in a time of great distress a large fund was raised in London for distribution, in one district 1,000 men applied for help before one mechanic came, and among all the applicants there was only one member of a trades-union.

The chief agency of reform, however, must be sought in the helpful co-operation of citizens with public authorities, particularly with those of the city. Private societies have made a failure of efforts to improve social conditions. The Elberfeld system, so often quoted, means precisely this co-operation of private effort with municipal authorities. This organization of charities is a municipal one, which drafts into its service the best citizens as friendly visitors in such numbers that there is one to every four poor families.

Finally, every social improvement tends to diminish the number of paupers, and the question of pauperism thus involves the whole of social science. Remedies are of two kinds, positive and preventive— namely, those which seek to cure the evil and those which aim to prevent its coming into existence. The number of our almshouses, asylums, and charitable institutions of all sorts, of which we boast so much, is really our shame. They show that we are but half-Christians. As we progress in real Christianity, preventive measures will be more and more emphasized. They will include, among other things, improved education of every grade, better factory legislation, including employers'-liability acts, means for the development of the physical man, like gymnasiums, play-grounds, and parks, increased facilities for making small savings, like postal savings-banks, and more highly developed sanitary legislation and administration. We may hope to see the time when the practice of Christians will to such an extent conform to their proud professions that the slums of cities will disappear and be replaced by wholesome dwellings, permitting in these quarters once more to spring up that old and beneficent institution—the Home.

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