Industrial Work Force

The demand for factory labor grew as industry took off to new heights. Large migrations into American Cities occurred with rural Americans moving into cities and a great wave of immigrants poured into the United States. For the first time the majority of America was urban and thus a great amount of competition for jobs transpired. The average standard of living for workers rose in the years after the Civil War, but the return for labor was still fairly small. The average income usually below the $600 a year figure widely considered the minimum for a reasonable level of comfort during that time. Job security and wages were extremely concerning with the boom-and-bust cycle of industry leading to widespread poverty among the working class. A loss of control, low wages, long hours, and difficult labor represented the working class in the late 19th Century.


Cities grew and become centers of life with large markets and industrial jobs.  Ethnic groups banded together and the poor working class cramed into neighborhoods.
Cities grew and become centers of life with large markets and industrial jobs. Ethnic groups banded together and the poor working class cramed into neighborhoods.



Women and Children at Work

As the need for skill labor decreased, women and children were exploited. By 1900, 17% of the industrial work force consisted of women and 20% if all women were now wage earners. The idea of a housewife was changing because of the need of a sister, daughter, wife, and mother to help support the family. 1.7 million children under the age of 16 were employed in factories and industrial fields. 10% of all girls and 20% of all boys now held jobs. Children also worked to support their families and in many cases worked because of a reluctance to permit wives to work. Reformers and many others saw this emerging work force particularly vulnerable to exploitation and injury in the rough environment of the factory.

Working Women
Women working in a factory
Women working in a factory

At the turn of the century, nearly 1 adult women out of every 5 women worked as a wage earner. Most of the women were white and young (75% under 25). They worked in many industrial fields and the majority consisted of immigrants. However, most worked in fields that involved unskilled or semiskilled machine labor that was similar to what a woman's role in the home was. Although domestic service remained the number one female occupation, the textile industry became the number one field of work for women as wage earners. Other jobs that become associated with women or were previously associated with housewives included working in the garment/textile industry and the food processing industry. More formal jobs that became associated with women included: secretaries, book-keepers, typists, and telephone operators. They worked for wages as $6 to $8 a week, which was well below what was necessary to survive. Men would earn much higher wages for the same jobs. Women earned nearly $200 less than a man per a year on average. With a rise in women's labor the idea for minimum age arose, but was unsuccessful. The low wages and poor situations pushed more and more women into prostitution. Immigrants tended to allow their women to work because of their desperate situations and poverty.





Child Labor
Young polish boy working extra hours to support family, despite new laws prohibiting more than 10 hours a day.
Young polish boy working extra hours to support family, despite new laws prohibiting more than 10 hours a day.
external image nara_childlaborer.jpg

Family's turned to their children as additional wages were needed to make ends meet. Many realized the issues with children working in dangerous factories and so 38 states passed Child Labor Laws, but the laws prove ineffective. 60% of child labor was employed in agriculture, which was usually exempt from the labor laws. The kids would work 12 hour days picking and hoeing in the fields. The laws merely set a minimum age at 12 years of age and only allowed up to a ten hour work day (both were usually ignored however). Harsh conditions were usually associated with child labor. Cotton mills threw cold water on the faces of children to keep them awake during overnight shifts at the looms and canneries had little girls cut fruits and vegetables for sixteen hours. Injuries and deaths from industrial accidents were high due to exhaustion and dangers these children faced.






Sources

AMSCO
American History, Alan Brinkley


Other related or helpful Wiki pages to better understand topic:
Internal Migration
The Makeup of an American City
Urban Poverty \ Crime and Violence