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Adjusting Our Lives

July 18, 1934
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Dr. Frank’s column appears in this space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Among the great social and economic changes in American life today, insofar as their effects have manifested themselves within the Jewish group, the growing urbanization, that is, the ever increasing concentration of the national population in big urban centers, is undoubtedly of first-rate importance.

The majority of the American population is contained within the sphere of influence of a metropolitan center, for over one-half of the people of the United States now live within an hour’s motor ride of a city of 100,00 inhabitants or more. Three-quarters of the national increase in population between 1920 and 1930 took place within these larger cities and their vicinities.

The super-community, or city region, is largely a product of the automobile and telephone, which have helped build up the “metropolitan areas,” just as three generations before the railroad and telegraph brought into existence the modern large cities.

EFFECTS ON RETAIL TRADE

Until 1920 the concentration of population was based largely upon the centralization of industry. The population followed the industries. In recent times the main driving-force of the urbanization process has come from commercial and institutional conditions. The metropolitan community offers a wider variety of economic and cultural services, an increasing variety of jobs as well as more steady employment.

The growth of metropolitan settlements has visibly favored the centralization of the retail trade under the form of chain stores. They are absorbing an increasingly greater part of the total volume of retail business. This development in the distributive end of America’s economic machinery has made small business a less secure and less certain way for Jews to get ahead in commercial pursuits than the case was in previous times.

At the same time the automobile, the builder of the super-city, has had disastrous effects upon the position of small business in scattered localities, for it has widened the retail market centered in larger cities. Farmers and small-town folks go for their shopping to the nearest big city. In a word, the motor car has undermined the local store, which was a potent influence in distributing Jewish population from the large centers over the interior of the country.

KEENER COMPETITION IN CITIES

The American Jews are a highly urban people. Not less than ninety-seven per cent live in towns and cities, whereas only fifty-six per cent. of the total American population is found in urban communities.

The growing urbanization of America exercises a decided influence upon the economic circumstances of Jewish life. The following figures show the process of urbanization. In 1920, only 51.4 per cent. of the American population was urban; in 1930, the percentage rose to over fifty-six per cent.

Still more significant is the growth of the big cities (of over 250,000) where three-quarters of the total number of American Jewry lives. In 1910, only seventeen per cent. of all men, women, and children of America lived in these cities, while in 1930 some twenty-four per cent. of the entire nation was concentrated in cities of 250,000 or more.

The Jews inevitably feel the sharpened competition created by tens of thousands flocking into these larger cities from the American hinterland. This competition, most likely, has been a major factor behind the growing discrimination in industry and the professions that in recent time has It is a highly deplorable develop-come to be considered as the menace of “economic anti-Semitism.” ment in a great country originally free from racial iscord and prejudice.

In the metropolitan region, that is, within an hour’s motor ride of a large city, the growth of large apartment buildings has been more conspicuous than in the more scattered urban centers. Not only do a larger proportion of metropolitan residents live in apartment houses, but the average size of structure, both for dwelling and for working, has increased.

Although the size of the metropolitan apartment building and the amount of floor space per individual tend to increase, the family dwelling unit is growing smaller, and the demand for smaller units outbalances the need for larger apartments. This is to be explained by the diminishing size of the family itself.

Out of this situation various social-welfare needs arise. Take, for instance, the care of the aged. Not only are they increasing rapidly in proportion to the whole population, but crowded conditions in the modern dwelling in the big city also tend to make the situation more acute.

The tiny modern apartment, where every inch of space must be planned for, is a poor place indeed to house comfortably an old, infirm person. Valuable as it is that children should possess a spirit of consideration for the welfare of their aged parents, there are times when the strain becomes as unbearable to the old person as to the younger generation.

It follows that an adequate number of modern institutions, such as homes, clinics, etc., to take care of old and infirm persons should be provided. Let us remember that about thirty per cent. of the persons of over sixty-five are foreign-born, and not less than 250,000 of the aged in America are Jewish men and women.

The care for the aged is, therefore, a problem likely to make increasingly greater claims upon the attention of the Jewish community. It is not beside the mark to observe that the Jews are the most intensely urbanized group in the American population.

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

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