Adjusting Our Lives

Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

As a result of new methods of doing work, increased mechanization of industry, and changing consumption habits, striking economic changes have occurred during the past fifteen years in many trades and occupations of the people of the United States.

They have affected the economic position of the American Jew, for he shares in the good or bad fortune of the general economic situation. Moreover, the present social and economic trends strike with greatest force just at those economic activities, such as trade, small industry, and professions, in which the Jew has been vitally concerned.

The forces behind the inexorable process of economic evolution, more than any other single factor, shape the social-economic destiny of the four to five million Jews in North America.

OCCUPATIONAL SHIFTS

Brief comparison of the 1920 and 1930 census of occupation figures reveals that the workers drift away from agriculture, mining and forestry. At the same time the professions, the domestic and personal services and trade are showing the biggest percentage increases. Hundreds of thousands of workers every year are shifted, willingly or otherwise, from productive industry to other occupations.

They are now working in gasoline filling stations, in garages, in radio shops, in the furnace rooms of apartment and office buildings. in restaurants and hotel dining rooms, in night clubs, in beauty parlors, in physical culture establishments, in public bath houses and in dancing academies.

Within manufacturing industry itself great changes are constantly taking place. While, for instance, the woolen and cotton industry has been severely depressed, the rayon industry has leaped forward in a startling fashion.

PROMISING FIELDS OF WORK

While hundreds of thousands of workers have been dropped from the payrolls of the railroads, an increasing demand for workers has been in evidence in bus and trunk transportation. Also the employees of telephone, telegraph and cable companies greatly increased in number, not to speak of the entirely new radio occupation.

The effects of slow occupational changes constantly at work have been aggravated by the protracted depression and mass unemployment. And yet the severity of unemployment is not evenly distributed over all occupational groups.

Here and there the supply, for instance, of really competent coppersmiths, skilled laundry operatives, dental mechanics, tool and die makers, nurses, veterinarians and trained social workers is less than the demand. With continued upturn in business, the relative undersupply of workers in many occupations will become obvious.

The following causes account for the difficult economic position of the farmer, more especially the cereal producer: the falling off in the growth of the population through births and immigration, the fact that a population composed more largely of older people requires less food per capita, the “reducing” craze, and the growth of per capita income which leads people, in the growing urban centers, to prefer to crude food a more refined and varied diet.

Again, the fall in the size of the family, combined with the servant question, restricts the aggregate demand for housing accommodation. This, in turn, gradually affects the demand for furniture and other sorts of equipment.

Thus, as the national health and standard of living rises, two of the foremost “staple industries,” agriculture and building trades, lose in relative importance, as items in the national spending budget, to luxuries or service occupations.

CONTRADICTING CONDITIONS

Naturally the demand for luxuries, such as distinctive clothing, furs, jewelry and amusements, is more subject to change and variation from time to time than the demand for staple products. Employment in such industries is likely, therefore, also to be more unstable.

In the textile industry, for example, a considerable number of Jewish firms and their employees with them, particularly in silks, ribbons, and novelties, seem to have suffered great losses since the war. The relative reduction in the purchase of clothes, the displacement of cotton by silk, and silk by rayon, are the outstanding factors behind the textile depression.

As to the jewelry trades, where large numbers of Jews have long been active, a similar and interesting economic change has been noticeable. Since the war precious jewelry seems to have lost its longstanding function as the recognized sign and symbol of wealth.

POPULATION GROWING OLDER

These unstable conditions make it very desirable that the population of the working age should be adjustable and mobile, to be able to take advantage of new openings and new demands. However, for the same reasons, it is difficult to forecast in what particular direction the demand for labor will manifest itself.

On the other hand the public health movement and the reduction of immigration increase the relative proportion of middle-aged and old persons in the population at large. It has been estimated that by 1975 those over fifty years of age will form twenty-six per cent. of the total population in America. Now, the “mobility” of a people of such a makeup would be less than of a people with a larger proportion of younger breadwinners.

Thus the requirements of the new economic situation, on the one hand, and the changing age-character of the population on the other, are in direct contradiction to one another.

Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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