Immigration and Labor: The Economic Aspects of European Immigration to the United States

By Isaac A. Hourwich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
CHILD LABOR

CHILD labor has a depressing effect upon the rate of wages. Thousands of children of immigrants are employed in the mills of New England and the Middle Atlantic States. The inference which readily suggests itself to the popular mind is that child labor is the product of immigration. It is a historical fact, however, that child labor originated in the United States with the introduction of the factory system during the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Early writers on economic subjects favored the employment of children in factories, because it would save adult male labor for agriculture, fishing, shipping, and the skilled trades. Child labor was advocated on religious and philanthropic grounds. The various immigrant races which succeeded one another in the nineteenth century found child labor as an integral part of the factory system in the United States.1

During the ten-year period from 1899 to 1909, with its unprecedented immigration, the average number of children employed in factories remained stationary, viz., in 1899- 161,000, in 1909-162,000, while the relative number decreased from 3.4 per cent to 2.5 per cent of all wage-earner.2

____________________
1
Carlton, loc cit., pp. 380-385.
2
XVIII. Census Bulletin. Manufactures, p. 19. It is probable that the number of children at work has decreased as well. The number of wage-earners for 1899, owing to the method of computation followed at the XII. Census, was considerably underestimated: The average number was computed "by using 12, the number of calendar months, as a divisor into the total of the average numbers reported for each month." The effect of this method is shown in the case of twelve

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