Social Aspects of Industry: A Survey of Labor Problems and Causes of Industrial Unrest

By S. Howard Patterson | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER VII
POVERTY AND SUBNORMAL STANDARDS OF LIVING

THE INADEQUACY OF FAMILY WAGES

1. Nature of Poverty and Pauperism. -- Poverty is one of the oldest economic maladjustments. The prophets of the Old Testament indicted the rich for the exploitation and oppression of the poor. Revolution and social unrest still have their seeds in poverty and economic inequality.

In a discussion of poverty and pauperism it is necessary that our terms be defined at the very outset. That class in society with the smallest income, and consequently with the lowest standard of living, is usually referred to as the poor. The advance of civilization has increased our economic prosperity and has raised standards of living in general. The well to do classes of modern nations live in a state of luxury undreamed of by the princes and nobles of the Middle Ages. Likewise the poor of today enjoy comforts and conveniences which were not possessed by the corresponding classes in an earlier society.

Nevertheless, at any given time and place there are the relatively rich and the relatively poor. In spite of our economic progress, the poor "in the sense of those in the lowest economic group" have persisted because of the continuation of economic inequality and the division of society into various economic groups. The poor in this comparative sense we shall always have with us, unless society should be modeled on some communistic plan. The elimination of the poor in the sense of the lowest economic group is as impossible as the elimination of the last train coach, which is frequently the victim in railroad wrecks.

On the other hand, the term "poverty" may be used in a less comparative sense to refer to those individuals or families whose incomes are so small, and whose standards of living are consequently so low, that neither health nor working efficiency can be maintained. Although standards of living are also relative, it is possible at any given time and place to determine some minimum standard of decent living. Thus, social pathologists regard poverty as a social disease and the poor as abnormal members of society.

In contradistinction to the poor, the paupers are those individuals in almshouses or those families in their own homes who receive assistance from charitable organizations. The pauper class is part of the social debtor group, because pauperism is essentially a state of dependency. Poverty and pauperism are not synonymous, and those individuals who

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