Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/514

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
492
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

penetrating analysis was needed, and at the meeting of the sixteenth National Conference, where about forty representatives of this branch of philanthropic work were present, a schedule was adopted for the collation of more elaborate and, it is hoped, more useful statistics. This schedule, except for a few minor alterations and additions, is the same as the one elaborated and used by the Buffalo society. As an example of the manner in which the figures will tell their story when collated, we may glance at some of the results reached by the Buffalo society through a very careful study of 1,407 families, including 5,388 persons. The chief cause of destitution was adjudged to be lack of employment in 263 cases, sickness in 326, no male support in 373, intemperance in 124, physical defects in 113, insufficient earnings in 87, accidents in 45, imprisonment of bread-winner in 35, shiftlessness in 26, and insanity in 15.

The personal equation must enter very largely into the collection of such statistics. For instance, it might be inferred a priori, from the foregoing figures, that those who were responsible for the decisions are not rabid "temperance people" nor prohibitionists. Such is, indeed, the fact; but, at the same time, it must be said that in Boston, and among workers inclined to give intemperance its full meed of discredit as a cause of poverty, a careful statistical analysis of this character convinced them that it was the chief cause in only about half the cases. Though statistics of this nature may not be the firmest ground to tread upon, they yet afford better footing than the quicksands of hap-hazard opinion.[1]

In some matters, also, the facts are more tangible, and the results, therefore, more reliable. For instance, it has for some time been the opinion of practical workers that a considerable portion of the most hopeless poverty is caused by the decay of the ties of the family. It is found that, in the 1,407 families reported on in Buffalo, there were, in fact, 183 deserted wives. Where, as in this case, investigation merely confirms a previous opinion, it is still of the greatest use, because it enables the workers to make a more cogent appeal for remedial legislation.

Recently, more than in the immediate present, it was the fashion to talk as though a common-school education was the one thing needful to cure all social ills, and to bring down upon us an imminent millennium. The reformers of that time went to battle with a spelling-book shield that might have borne the device of a schoolmaster rampant. In such a connection it is interesting to notice that in the 1,407 destitute families investigated in Buffalo it was found that the respective heads of 1,019 of them could both

  1. See an article by the present writer, "Notes on the Statistical Determination of the Causes of Poverty," in the "Publications of the American Statistical Association," March, 1889.