While some of us wax nostalgic now and then, I don't think anyone wants to return to the conditions that existed at the turn of the century.
In 1910, the U.S. population was 92.4 million; currently, it's more than 303.8 million. The average woman in 1910 lived to the ripe old age of 51.8 years of age and men 48.4. Is it any wonder that people frequently married young? The average woman now lives to 80.1 years of age and men 74.8 years of age.
The average salary in 1910 was $750 a year; now the average annual income for Americans is $34,140. A twelve day vacation cruise cost $60; a similar cruise today, about $2,200. A gallon of milk cost 32 cents; now the average cost is over $3. Henry Ford's Model T cost $345 in 1914; the cost of a car now: just under $17,000. The divorce rate in 1910 was 1 in 1000, now, 4.95 in 1000.
Disease was rampant. Typhus and tuberculosis were a serious threat to many Americans. Many women and children perished during childbirth. Most children were birthed at home as opposed to hospitals.
In 1910, 60 percent of the population lived in a town of fewer than 2500 or less. There was no income tax, no social security, no unemployment insurance and no public housing for the elderly or the handicapped. About 33 percent of Americans were farmers or farm laborers. Today, that figure has fallen to just two percent.
The average work week in 1910 included six, twelve hour days. Only Sunday was reserved for worship and rest. There were few unions and working conditions in most factories were deplorable and decidedly unsafe.
Most factories and mines employed children at paltry wages in especially dangerous jobs. The phrase "grease monkey" described the job of climbing high above open running machinery to grease the open bearings of the day. Young children, adept at climbing were often employed in that capacity. Many became victims that were literally consumed by factory machinery below when they fell.
It took many years to pass a minimum age law as powerful businessmen like J.P. Morgan and others fought to keep children working in factories. A few states passed child labor laws that reduced the twelve hour day to ten hours a day. Few states enforced the laws and many children labored next to their largely poor, immigrant parents.
As children worked in factories and on farms, they were removed from the possibility of educating themselves and the opportunity to get out of poverty. While some children are still working in unsafe conditions, it is largely seen on the west coast and south where illegal migrant workers harvest vegetable crops. Mandatory school attendance removes most children from labor exploitation.
When I am feeling especially discouraged I remind myself that things could be and were, considerably worse in our collective past. Remember all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org