Immigrants / Working Conditions and Pay (post 1860)


The overall structure and appearance of American industry was changing dramatically in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First of all, the base of the American economy started changing around the 1860s and 1870s. The American economy went from being highly agrarian and agricultural to greatly industrial. Commerce, production, and manufacturing all became industrialized. Life in America became based in the city. All these changes and transformations greatly effected the labor force. As factories spread, the need for cheap labor increased. Also, as millions of immigrants poured into the United States of America, lives of virtually every person in the country changed. For some, life changed in a good way, and for other, in a terrifying manner.

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The economic shift towards industry heavily effected the type of immigrants migrating into the U.S.A. Previously, the majority of the immigrant work force was coming to the U.S.A. from northern and western Europe: Ireland, Germany, and England. After the economic shift, immigrants started flowing from eastern and southern Europe: Italy, Russia, Greece, and other European nations. Millions of immigrants also migrated from other place such as Mexico and Asia, especially China . The immigrants left their country for many reasons:religious persecution, poverty, overcrowdedness, disease, etc. They chose to come to the United States for many reasons as well: Economic opportunity, education, freedom, etc. The most important reason for the migrations was economic opportunity. Most of the immigrants came to America to become rich. Although some just wanted to start a new life and make enough money to support their families in a decent and comfortable way, most immigrants wanted to become millionaires. Of coarse, stories to rags to riches were virtually nonexistent.

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Most of the immigrants from Europe settled in the eastern cities of America such as Pittsburgh and New York City. The main reason behind the settlements in the cities was the need for unskilled labor. Almost all of the cities contained many factories, and the factories needed unskilled labor. Machines did practically everything, thus skilled labor was not needed. Almost all of the immigrants were not skilled in any particular occupation and were willing to work long hour in unhealthy and dangerous conditions. Immigrants found jobs in many types of factories, from textile to food. Many immigrants started working for railroad companies. This was particularly true for the immigrants who settled in the western cities and states, such as Texas, California, and New Mexico. Most of the immigrants in the western cities came from Mexico and Asia.

Working Conditions

Most immigrants were successful in finding jobs in America. Although the jobs did not require hard work or skill, they working conditions were extremely dangerous. Work accidents were very common in factories. The injured workers were usually not fully compensated as well. Along with this, there was very little security for their low paying, dangerous jobs. They could lose them anytime. Even if the workers could not lose their jobs in any case, their wages and total income could drop at anything. This was mainly because the factories were based on the laws of supply and demand. As demand went up, supply went up, increasing the security of the jobs. However when demand dropped, the wages were cut, or even worse, the jobs were taken. As the turn of the century edged closer, the employers started to base the factories on the principles of scientific management. They tightened their grip on the factory and its workers,and put down any requests or little disputes. This heavily dented the employee's authority and control.

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Although the immigrant labor force filled in jobs in America, many of the jobs were not very promising.The immigrants worked for wages, and only got paid about $2 a day, which was the minimal sum of money required to survive. Do to this, most of the immigrant families had more than one family member working for wages. Women and children were happily employed by managers because the companies did not have to pay women and children as much as they were paying men. Since men were being paid such a minuscule amount, women and children were paid practically nothing. However, women and children had to work since the family could not survive on just one income. Success and upward movement was virtually impossible.

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Other Problems

  • Nativists and employees were hostile to the new immigrant workers.

  • Nativists believed that the immigrants coming from the new sources were inferior to the American and Germanic peoples in the United States.

  • Employees feared that employers would hire many immigrants at cheap and how wages. Not only would this lower the wages of the old employees, they would lose their jobs as well.

  • The employees were scared of being replaced by the immigrants.
  • Americans moving into the cities also clashed with the immigrants in many aspects.

  • When immigrants moved to the western states, they faced hostile competition from the African Americans working on the mines and railroads present there.

  • As immigrants settles in the lower parts of the cities, they formed ethnic groups.

  • This often led to problems and tension between the various ethnic groups.

  • Language and culture was also a huge difference between the immigrants and the peoples alreadly present in the United States.

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External Links

Bibliography / Sources