Labor Market Politics and the Great War: The Department of Labor, the States, and the First U.S. Employment Service, 1907-1933

By William J. Breen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
Postwar Reckoning

T he wartime USES had been a success, albeit a qualified one. It never became the sole channel for the distribution of labor during the war, although by late 1918 it was beginning to approach that ideal and had certainly become the most significant, single influence on the national labor market. In the period of its greatest influence, between January 1918 and June 1919, inclusive, the USES registered slightly more than 7 million workers, referred 6.5 million to employers, and placed just under 5 million. Total orders from employers numbered just over 12 million.1

Most of the placements made by the USES were in war industries, where it was estimated that approximately 7 million men and around 2 million women were employed. The work often involved moving labor across state lines: by the second half of 1918, the USES was moving approximately 3,000 unskilled laborers per week to positions outside their own states. Increasing numbers of women were registering at USES offices. Between July and December 1918, just over 382,000 women obtained positions through the USES and a further 356,985 did so in the first six months of 1919.2 While interpreting with any precision the statistics of the wartime period is difficult, the record of the USES nevertheless appears impressive.3

This achievement was undoubtedly assisted by circumstances. It was not until the summer of 1918 that a serious labor shortage developed and, by that time, the USES had been substantially reorganized and was beginning to function effectively. However, the precise magnitude of the labor shortage in late 1918 remains unclear. One contemporary economist believed that, even during the war, there were never less than a million unemployed although there were many jobs available that went unfilled.4 The

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