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Adjusting Our Lives

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One-eighteenth of the people of the United States live within the boundaries of Greater New York. Over forty-six per cent of the population of the city was, in 1930, gainfully employed, in an occupation, trade or profession. Since that time, the number at work has shrunk, the impact of unemployment being much more severe in certain trades and industries than in others.

The proportion belonging to each of the leading occupations, however, including both employed and unemployed, cannot have changed greatly in the past few years. There, no doubt, have been long-range changes and shifts in occupational distribution, however. It is of great interest to know and understand these changing trends of opportunity.

The Personnel Research Federation in New York has recently issued, as its first contribution to the Adjustment Service Publication series, a booklet with a graphical presentation of the trends in 110 leading occupations and professions in New York City since 1910.


In this booklet we find evidence pointing to a displacement of tailors and dressmakers by clothing industry operatives. But also the number of the latter, in proportion to the entire working population, decreased since 1920. So, for instance, the number of clothing workers (males) per 10,000 gainfully employed persons (males) was 369 in 1920, and only 248 in 1930. A less pronounced drop, too, occurred in regard to female clothing workers: from 980 per 10,000 female workers in 1920 to 887 in 1930.

In contradistinction to the situation in New York City, the number of women clothing workers in the country at large shows an upward trend.

The transfer of some of the former home functions to the shop and factory is reflected in the figures regarding men and women workers in cleaning, dyeing and pressing establishments. They did not appear in the United States census returns until 1910 at all, but increased rapidly and considerably during the last two decades.


The statistics for New York show a steady rise in the proportion of draftsmen, both men and women; the rapid increase of librarians; the enormous influx of women into the nursing profession; the obsolescence of the veterinarian; and the very substantial growth of the engineering profession.

Within the engineering profession proper, the rapid drift into mechanical branch reached a peak during the war decade, while since 1919 there has been a rush into electrical engineering. Similarly, the proportion of electricians has visibly increased, and, on the other hand, the ratio for plumbers has decreased.

The marked decrease in the number of household servants during the war decade when it seemed as though housework was becoming simplified and mechanized and women were going to work in factories, stores and offices, has since shown a reversal of trend. The numbers of cooks, house servants, porters and janitors show an upward trend.

Other growing occupations are: decorators, drapers and window dressers; insurance and real estate agents and officials; stock brokers; policemen; teachers; accountants and clerks; laundry operatives; waiters; photographers; lawyers and judges; editors and reporters; college professors and presidents.

For some of the newer occupations, the earlier census data are lacking. “Trained nurses,” for example, were not separately classified in 1910. Since then, male trained nurses have dropped by two-thirds (in proportion) from 1910 to 1930, while female trained nurses have risen from 128 in 1910 to 254 in 1930 (per 10,000 female workers).

New York, finally, seems to be getting along with relatively fewer physicians and undertakers.


Figures of unemployment indicate the relative demand and supply in different occupations. Take the instance of the plumbers. There are now about as many plumbers as electricians in New York City, but at the census enumeration, in April 1930, the number of plumbers reported as out of work was nearly double that of electricians. For thirty years the proportion of plumbers was steadily decreasing; of electricians, increasing.

The profession of graduate nurse provides another striking illustration. The trend of growth in this occupation has been spectacular. It is often alleged that the training schools have been turning out altogether too many nurses. But in April, 1930, less than three per cent. of the women in this occupation in New York City were out of work. Now, this is a smaller proportion than was found among the women in the professional services taken as a whole (four per cent.), or among all women in New York City with gainful occupations (4.6 per cent.).

Among male nurses, the picture is reversed. Their number has been declining. Of those who clung to the occupation in April, 1930, more than ten per cent. were unemployed.


This office occupation offers greater opportunities to Jews than the rest of clerical jobs, for in this instance the bars of anti-Jewish employment discrimination are a little relaxed, as a result of a more favorable demand-supply relationship.

The number, then, of women stenographers in New York has increased eight-fold during the last thirty years. During the past decade the increase was much more gradual. Through the depression period, unemployment has been less severe than in the manufacturing occupations open to women.

During this critical period, those stenographers who could also do general kinds of work, such as operate a switch-board, or a computing machine, or help with the filing or bookkeeping, were better able to retain their positions.

Stenographers over forty years of age have twenty-five per cent. more of a chance of being placed than those under twenty, and thirty-three per cent. more of a chance than those between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine. Competent legal, medical and foreign-language stenographers are difficult to find. There is also a shortage of experienced bookkeepers-stenographers and of stenographers capable of operating dictating machines when necessary.

The increasing popularity of this profession among women of superior background, such as college graduates, makes job-finding more and more difficult for applicants without advanced education.

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