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AMERICAN FARM LABOR.
Prepared under the direction of the Industrial Commission by J. R. DODGE, Expert
The expert agent of the Industrial Commission, Mr. J. R. Dodge, who as Statistician of the Department of Agriculture made nine national investigations of the wages of farm labor, makes the following report to the commission. It treats of the present condition of the laborer, the comparative sufficiency of his compensation, and his relative thrift and prosperity. It investigates the personnel of our farm laborers, their characteristics and tendencies, to what extent native, and the geographical distribution the foreign element. The course of wages from the beginning of the factory era is traced, showing their changes and advance, and the effects of boom and panie periods.
The average rate of wages is shown to have been nearly doubled in 50 years, is fully as high now as at any time in 20 years, and higher than in any other country in the world. The efficiency of the more skilled and reliable class is found to be increasing, from the influence of agricultural education, in the object lessons presented by thousands of graduates or students of colleges and dairy schools, the teaching of farmers' institutes and the agricultural press. The influence of the general use of agricultural machinery in the same direction is shown, as well as its amelioration of the drudgery of farm labor and its shortening of hours of service, while reducing the cost of production, and enabling the farmer to compete in the world's markets, increase cultivated area, and give wider employment in needed farm improvements.
The common labor of the farms, including the transient service in harvest or other operations and the less intelligent of the foreign element, does not appear to be improving in efficiency. It is less reliable and valuable than the native farm labor of a former generation.
The difference in wages between the districts where white and colored labor respectively dominate is wide. Some testimony is adduced showing improvement in efficiency in a small class of colored laborers in certain sections, while the larger portion are reported to be either standing still or retrograding. Colored labor is represented as superabundant, crowded, listless, and unambitious, lacking inducement to effort. On the other hand, it is shown that many of these laborers go from Virginia to Rhode Island and Connecticut, get $18 to $20 per month and board, giving good satisfaction to employers, and returning for the winter. They are probably of more than average reliability and efficiency, but they could not get more than half as much wages at home.
The result of the investigation, which includes the testimony of the most eminent observers and teachers of rural economy, proves conclusively that our farm laborers with apparently lower wages than persons of the same intelligence and skill receive in town employment, save more money, have more comforts and fewer anxieties, and have better opportunities to secure homes and social position. Cases are cited, as common experiences, of laborers who have gone to the towns, spent their little savings, and after years of struggle have returned to the country to recoup themselves. In addition to wages the married laborer has a house free of rent, a garden, firewood, pasturage for a cow, and other perquisites. The enterprising laborer usually becomes a tenant and afterwards a farm owner.
The investigation finds no warrant for fears of land monopoly and the predominance of the tenant class. Most of the assumed increase of tenant farmers is in the South, where three-fourths of a million farm laborers are in the guise of tenants, simply from aversion to personal supervision and control, and a desire for independencefarm tenancy only in name. In the North it is shown that the tendency is away from land monopoly; that farms are becoming smaller in every decade; that the “bonanza farms" are breaking up; that large tracts bought on speculation are being subdivided and sold; that while there has been some increase of tenancy, it has not arisen from the profit of land holding for tenant occupancy. Some have rented settled farms to take up fresh cheap lands in a speculative spirit. Prosperous farmers in advancing years go to town to educate their children and take their ease, leaving the farm in the care of a son, who is counted in the census as a tenant. It is found that the trusted farm laborer often becomes a tenant, and eventually a proprietor. It is shown that tenancy is temporary, that there is no tenant class and little likelihood of one.
It is in evidence that some farmers in prosperous circumstances are tiring of land occupancy from inequality of taxation, arising especially from full assessment of all farm property, while other wealth is largely exempt; and at the same time there is a tendency toward country life by enterprising and active men of intelligent and progressive views of the possibilities of scientific agriculture.
TABLE OF CONTENTS,
87 90 91 97 104 107 110 112
CHAPTER I. Farm LABOR IN THE UNITED STATES.
1. New England States
8. Increase of Efficiency from Agricultural Education.. Charter III. Half A CENTURY OF FARM WAGES:
1. Present Conditions
7. Effect of Recent Depression
116 120 125 127 128 129 130 133 137
I C-VOL XI-6
FARM LABOR IN THE UNITED STATES.
The labor of the farms of the United States, which produces annually values exceeding $4,000,000,000, includes that of the proprietor, the tenant, and the wage laborer. In 1890 the census enumeration made a total of 8,395,634, of which the hired laborers were only 3,004,061. At the present time the total of classes that may be considered workers in agriculture should be at least 9,500,000, while wage earners may not be more than 3,500,000.
The interrelation between these two classes is too intimate for exclusive consideration of wage-earners as factors of our farm labor, though that is the specific subject of the present investigation.
In the first settlement of an agricultural community, especially in a country where land is practically given away, there are few farm workers who are not farm owners. That is essentially the condition in Oklahoma to-day, and it is largely go in the entire Rocky Mountain region, and only in less degree on the Pacific coast. The labor of the farm owner is still the main factor in the Southern mountain sections from Virginia to Alabama, and even in the hill lands and small farm districts of eastern Mississippi, northern Louisiana, and Texas. And whatever of white wage labor in the South contributes to the production of that region is almost solely from the families of the local farmers. In the North the native laborers are mostly the sons of farmers, who accept such position temporarily, usually becoming in turn tenants and proprietors. In many sections of the North a large proportion of the wage earners are foreign, of which specific mention will be made in considering the personnel of labor. Thus these classes of rural labor are merged and commingled in a process of development as natural as that by which a tadpole becomes a frog. It sometimes happens among the prairies, where every farmer is a speculator, that a prosperous owner gives up his improved acres to a tenant and seeks a new farm at primitive cost for the profits of the development. This ambition to become an independent proprietor is general, if not universal. The freedman, stolid and apathetic as he is generally reported, and wedded to the hand-to-mouth method of living by hereditary instinct and present inclination, from the first repudiated wage labor very generally, substituted a crop-sharing contract that avoided supervision and simulated independence, and whenever able to buy a mule and plow he rented 40 acres, more or less, and in those rare cases where industry and prudence brought a degree of success bought a few acres of land in the hope of making a home. From lowest to highest there ia no absolute exemption from the sentiment of home making and land ownership which controls so powerfully the life and labor of the American rural toiler.
This investigation seeks to show the condition of the wage laborer, the comparative demand for his service, his relative efficiency, the sufficiency of his compensation in comparison with other labor of equal skill, and the increase of his rate of wages during the past half century. It also inquires as to the personnel of such labor, to what extent of native origin and how its foreign elements are distributed, of what characteristics and tendencies, economic conditions, and indications of progress. It considers briefly the methods of labor most closely allied to wage working, those of crop sharing and tenant farming, especially as a large proportion of our so-called tenancy is only wage making under another name, preferable by reason of strong preferences and bitter prejudices, and having almost none of the essential character of real tenant farming. This feature of tenancy has its origin in a desire for land distribution rather than in land monopoly, and its treatment will serve to correct the false idea gained from a superficial reading of a somewhat erroneous census classification.
As a result of this investigation it is found that the present supply of labor varies locally-in some sections ample for the demand, in others insufficient and scarce. Available farm laborers were never more fully employed than at present. The great variety and activity of industrial enterprises makes unusual demand for labor, which withdraws from rural districts certain classes of laborers. The skilled and responsibie service of the farm, like the technical service of the factory and that of mechanical trades, is not so much affected by the competition, but the mass of unskilled farmi