Seasonal Unemployment and the “Hobo”


By Henry A. White.

During the winter of 1914-15 the number of unemployed in the United States was so large, that for the first time in the history of this country it caused serious concern and uneasiness in all of the large cities. More or less superficial efforts were made to alleviate the sufferings of those out of work, but unfortunately they were directed along charitable and not along constructive lines and the situation is now in a more chaotic condition than it ever was before.

If municipalities and charitable organizations had been confronted with the problem of unemployment for the first time last winter, there would have been some excuse for their failure to provide adequate relief, but such was not the case. Every year for more than a decade, the same conditions have existed during the winter months; and yet the authorities have refused, or neglected to profit by the experience of other years and this constantly growing and menacing condition has been handled in the same shipshod, shiftless, yes, criminally careless way year after year.

Early in the spring of 1914 it was known that there would be widespread suffering, through unemployment, during the winter; yet no effort was made to provide adequate relief, here or elsewhere, through emergency work during the months of depression. Indeed, so little were the officials in St. Louis concerned that they put off opening that miserable apology for a Municipal Lodging House, in the basement of the old Four Courts building with its barbarous adjunct, the rock pile, until December.

The same conditions will confront the large cities, and the whole country, again next winter, and now – during the summer months – is the time to prepare to meet them; not through individual or trustified charity, public “soup kitchens,” “granitoid flops” and rock piles, but arranging for constructive and remunerative work, at public expense, for all who apply. Although not one of the large cities or the States, or the National Government has ever done this, there is no reason why they cannot provide for emergency work in times of need if they see fit to do so. If they refuse or neglect to do this, next winter will see a much larger number of hungry men, going from door to door, begging a “hand out” or the price of a “flop” that were ever seen before, for the situation is growing worse year by year.

Every man has the “right to work,” not only during the winter months, but all of the time, if he so desires, and no one should have the authority to deny that right. The right to work means the right to live, or the right to public maintenance if no work is provided. Private or trustified charity is a poor substitute for work, and the giving of alms makes the problem of unemployment much harder to solve than if no help at all were given. But so long as public officials refuse or neglect to provide work, nothing remains for the “hobo,” who will not “go up an alley out of sight and die quietly,” as many would like to have him do, but go out and “get his” by way of the
“pan handle” route, disagreeable and humiliating though it be to him and troublesome and annoying as it is to the business man and the good lady of the house.

The “hobo” – the occasional and migratory worker-is not ephemeral; he is a necessity and is here to stay. He was not a party to his own evolution, but is the product of changed and changing economic conditions. He should not

Although the liquid is strong enough to burn the entrails of a hog, many men, in fact to be allowed to degenerate through seasonal unemployment for he is needed to build the railways, harvest the crops and do irrigation and reclamation work. He is not per se a menace to society, as many think. He becomes an Ishmaelite only when he is denied the right to earn his own living. And the much despised and maligned tramp is as much a product of the system as the “hobo.’ He should have sympathy and help and not contempt and condemn. nation from individuals and society. His degradation is more of a shame on society than on him.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen, just elected, starts with a clean slate and a new, broad, comprehensive charter which allows more freedom in dealing with unemployment than the old one did and the Mayor in his annual message called attention to that fact, The Board should consider the problem from a social and not an individual standpoint and do its best to solve it along constructive and remunerative lines. By doing so it will make it possible for men, though temporarily “down and out” to retain their self-respect and incentive, and will make it possible, also, to do away with “soup lines,” “granitoid flops” and rock piles with which to punish men because they cannot find work.