Accepting as accurate the standard of living studies which set the efficiency minimum for a man, wife and three children under fourteen at $750 to $900 per year, it appears that a very large group of American wage earners are unable to support their children on an efficiency basis. If unmarried, their wage is adequate; if married, with a family of more than three children, their wage is insufficient to maintain efficiency. As the average American family is five, many of these earners are probably receiving less than efficiency wages. If this apparent discrepancy between wages and an efficiency standard of living really exists, it should have a reflex in underfed children, in undesirable living conditions, in anemic men and women—that is, in the typical products of low efficiency standards. That such products do exist, the meager data at hand indicate; but the exact character or extent of the low standard condition is most uncertain. John Spargo in a recent book attempting to estimate the number of underfed children in the schools, concludes that there are between 60,000 and 78,000 such in New York City alone. A much more authoritative study is contained in a report of the Chicago School Board, which asserts:
I further report that 10,000 other children in the city—while not such extreme cases as the aforesaid—do not have sufficient nourishing food. . . .
There are several thousand more children under six who are also underfed, and who are too young to attend school.
The question of food is not the only question to be considered. Many children lack shoes and clothing. Many have no beds to sleep in. They cuddle together on hard floors. The majority of the indigent children live in damp, unclean, or overcrowded homes, that lack proper ventilation and sanitation. Here, in the damp, ill-smelling basements, there is only one thing regarded as cheaper than rent—and that is the life of the child.We find that a large number of children have only bread, saturated in water, for breakfast day after day; that the noon meal is bread or bananas, and an occasional luxury of soup made from pork bones; that children often frequent South Water Street begging for dead fowl in the crates or decayed fruit; that others have been found searching for food in alley garbage boxes, and several cases were reported where hungry children at school picked up crusts of bread or fragments of lunch which other children had thrown away.
Families are not only undernourished—they are badly housed as well. Here, for example, is a description of the housing facilities afforded a group of Pittsburgh steel-mill workers.
- "Bitter Cry of the Children," John Spargo, New York, Macmillan Co., 1906, Chapter II.
- Report of Minutes, Board of Education, City of Chicago, October 2, 1908, pp. 4-5.
- "Painters' Row," Elizabeth Crowell, Charities, February 6, 1909, pp. 914-915.