The Immigrant Jew in America

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The Russian Jew in New York*
by Isaac M. Rubinow, Bureau of Statistics, U.S. Dept of Agriculture

* - From "The Immigrant Jew in America"-- issued by the National Liberal Immigration League, New York City, 1907.
Also included in earlier 1905 edition of "The Russian Jew in the United States."

By the somewhat loose phrase, "economic condition," we usually designate the condition of distribution of wealth. By "industrial condition," a term equally indefinite, the modes of acquisition of wealth are usually meant, the trades, the professions, the various kinds of economic activities. Though far from being scientifically correct, these definitions will be found available for the practical purposes of this short study. Our subject, then, is the methods and results of production and distribution of wealth in a large section of the cosmopolitan population of our metropolitan city.

Economic science knows but one satisfactory method for such a study--the statistical method. Only by means of measurements can the quantitative relations be determined; and the problem of wealth production, and, still more, of wealth distribution is primarily a quantitative problem. Yet in the whole mass of American statistical publications hardly any data can be found which would throw the faintest light upon our problem. From purely scientific considerations, it is to be regretted that the factor of religion is omitted from our census statistics however justified such omission might have been by reason of policy. We are not even aware of the exact size of the Jewish colony in New York, and the guess at 600,000 made by Joseph Jacobs1, though based upon sound statistical principles, is still but a rough guess. The difficulties increase a hundred fold if out of the whole Jewish population the Russian Jews are to be differentiated. And if our knowledge is so very limited in regard to this one item of population, how much more difficult must it be to deal with the problem which we have attempted to touch upon.

As the first steps toward a scientific solution of this problem still have to be made, general observations and impressions, always subjective, always more or less biased, must take the place of careful and accurate scientific data. The widest differences in these impressions must be expected. Many a charitable Jew or Christian has seen in the great New York Ghetto nothing but a huge collection of misery and poverty. On the other hand, a Canadian observer2 has come to a different conclusion: "The Jews are about one eightieth of the population, yet they claim 115 out of the 4,000 millionaires of the country, about two and a half times as many as they are entitled to....The business of the successful ones extends from banking to pork-packing, from realty to dry goods, from distilleries to cotton."

What is the truth? If we give an earnest thought to the economic condition of the New York Jews, the very first conclusion to which we must come is that there are wide differences in the condition of different groups--social contrasts, if you will--a characteristic feature of American life in general. It may or it may not be true that the Jews have a larger percentage of millionaires than they are statistically entitled to.3 Glancing through the list of American millionaires which the World Almanac has published, we will come across many a Jewish name; and yet, very few names, if any, that have an " ovitch " or " etsky " at the end. While there are a considerable number of Jews among the " haute finance " of New York, scarcely a Russian Jew has yet succeeded in entering these exclusive circles.

With all that, the Russian Jewish population in New York is far from being the uniform mass that it appears to a superficial observer. It is true that for more than twenty years a uniform stream of poverty-stricken Russian Jews has flowed to New York, but we must not forget that the process began more than twenty years ago and that social differentiation has had time to work upon the early comers. Almost every newly arrived Russian Jewish laborer comes into contact with a Russian Jewish employer, almost every Russian Jewish tenement dweller must pay his exorbitant rent to a Russian Jewish landlord. It is almost certain that both have originally come from the same social stratum--for the rich Russian Jewish immigrant was an exception, so rare as to be almost statistically negligible--both at present represent two aspects of the same "economic condition." It is extremely probable that at present the majority of Russian Jewish workers work for Russian Jewish employers.

On the one hand, the ordinary business profits of manufacture and commerce, on the other the "unearned increment" in the value of real estate, have facilitated the growth of a very large and tolerably prosperous Russian Jewish middle class in New York. If there are no "ovitches" and "etskys" in the list of American millionaires, there are numbers of them in evidence on the Broadway windows and elsewhere. A large proportion of the great New York clothing industry (including the manufacturing of white goods) is in Russian Jewish hands, as well as a fair proportion of the trading in these goods, both wholesale and retail. Many other lines of commerce and manufacturing have attracted Russian Jewish hands, brains and money; yet the needle industries so called, and their accessories, have remained the great field of Russian Jewish business activity in New York.

The years (1898-1903) of unprecedented business activity and "prosperity" for the United States, caused an unusually brisk demand for the products of this Jewish industry; and the growth of Russian Jewish fortunes in New York has been the immediate result of this demand. Though we have no income statistics on which to base our suppositions, there can be not the slightest doubt that many fortunes, ranging between $25,000 and $200,000, have been made within these years. It was but natural that these extraordinary incomes should have been invested in real estate, and the phenomenal growth of the so-called Ghetto, which has earned the adjective "great" (used very frequently without the slightest suggestion of sarcasm), has had much to do with the formation of a number of fortunes. To one who has had an opportunity to watch the economic development of the district south of Houston Street, the formation of a well-to-do class in the midst of the Russian Jewish colony has been a very interesting phenomenon. The general improvement in the character of the stores, the sudden appearance of a dozen or more commercial banks, the well furnished cafes of a type utterly unknown five or six years ago, the modern apartments "with an elevator and a ‘nigger boy' on the stoop" all tell eloquently of this growth. In the show windows of small street stores, specimens of furniture have appeared which would not be out of place in many an uptown residence. One might say that some of the streets, lined with fine old buildings, are retracing the steps in their history. Inhabited by the "best people" many years ago, they have gradually become the abode of some of the poorest. And now poverty is forced to fly into other streets and even other quarters, to give space to this rising middle class. Many a Jewish family has moved uptown, because it could not afford the exorbitant rents demanded by the Ghetto landlords and Ghetto conditions.

Yet the Ghetto, where so many of these Jewish fortunes are made, is not the only place where the incomes derived are spent. If the new conditions have driven many a poor family out of the Ghetto, they have also forced the migration of the richer class. The possession of a larger income has opened the eyes of many a Russian Jewish family to the negative qualities of "downtown life " which before had been considered a necessary part of Russian Jewish existence in America. The monopoly of "uptown life," which the German Jew was supposed to hold, has gradually given way. Hundreds and thousands of families have started northward in an effort to be as good as their German cousins. Lexington Avenue, the abode of the German Jew, became the ideal of the Russian Jew as well. Gradually as the Russian Jewish colony on this thoroughfare and the tributary streets grew larger, and the exclusive character of this neighborhood disappeared, a further migration westward was started; the noble thoroughfare which divides our great metropolitan city into the "elite" and the "plebes" was finally crossed, until today more Russian is spoken west of Fifth and Sixth Avenues than was heard on East Broadway ten years ago. There is no doubt that these fairly well to do Russian families in New York reach scores of thousands.

It certainly is not ready made clothing and dry goods alone that have brought about this prosperity in a part of the Russian Jewish population. The jewelry business, the liquor business, to a limited extent, and the drug business, to a much greater extent, have all contributed to the same end. New York Jews have come to play a very important part in the theatrical business, but outside of Yiddish theatres and music halls, within the limits of the Ghetto, the Russian Jews have hardly entered this field.

It is a characteristic phenomenon of Russian Jewish life in New York that professions have formed as important a basis of prosperity as business, and perhaps even a larger one. Some snug little fortunes and an enormous number of comfortable incomes (a term of considerable latitude, it is to be admitted) have been and are now derived from what we define as professional work, and though we have no statistics, we can safely make the statement that no other element of New York population has so large a percentage of professional people as the Jews. The German Jews would probably show a higher percentage than the Russian Jews, for the former lack the enormous working class. If, however, we were to exclude the workingmen and consider the middle class only, the German and Russian Jews would have to change their places, as the educated and well-to-do German Jew takes much more readily to business.

We cannot stop to consider at length the why and wherefore of this phenomenon; an interesting problem it  undoubtedly is. The love and respect of the Russian Jew for education--unique in view of his economic condition in the old country--is one of its positive causes. A certain contempt for manual labor, noticed among a considerable number of Russian Jews--a sad but inevitable result of an enforced commercial life--is a cause much less praiseworthy. It is needless to point out how quickly this contempt vanishes under new surroundings, for, after all, the vast majority of the Russian Jewish immigrants become and remain manual workers. Be this as it may, it is a well known fact that the Russian Jewish element is largely represented in the professions of medicine, law, dentistry, engineering.

Medicine has remained one of the favorite professions. The laxity of entrance requirements, the awe of a doctor's title the Russian Jew brings from the old country, and the easy success of the older members of the profession have all contributed toward the popularity of this vocation. Probably from four hundred to six hundred of  the seven thousand physicians in greater New York are Russian Jews. Though of late symptoms of oversupply in the market have been noticed, the influx into the profession does not show any signs of abatement. The economic status of the majority is fair; many older members are well to do. In the real estate business of the East Side the medical man plays a part by no means unimportant. The dentists, less numerous, are much more prosperous. In the legal profession, on the contrary, the Russians cannot boast of any great success, either financial or otherwise. Pharmacy, on the border line between profession and business, has also attracted a large number of Russian youths, but the returns are far less satisfactory than those of the other occupations.

The teaching profession has probably provided a livelihood for more Jewish families than the others which we have enumerated. For obvious reasons, only the second generation, i.e., those born on the American soil, or those who had emigrated at a very early age, are fit for the profession; but it will certainly be a revelation to many an American to learn how many Russian Jewish young men and girls are doing this work of "Americanization," not only of Jewish, but of Irish, German, and Italian children. There is no doubt that the Jews have supplied a greater proportion of public school teachers than either the Germans or the Italians. The profession has never been a road to fortune; yet with the latest salary schedule, a very comfortable living has been provided for several thousand families.

The important position which the Russian Jew occupies in the professions of New York City is more significant because he entered them but a short time since. Ten years ago, a Russian Jewish journalist4 found only a few dozen representatives of his race in medicine and law, a few individuals in dentistry, and hardly any in the teaching profession, or in municipal service. These dozens have grown into hundreds, and even thousands, within the following decade. With a remarkable display of energy and enterprise, the Russian Jew was ready to grasp the opportunity whenever and wherever it presented itself. No wonder, then, that the professions soon began to feel the effects of this influx. The extraordinary profits of the pioneer have vanished. At the same time the necessary increase in the stringency of the laws regulating professional work has very wisely cut off the possibility of entering a profession to many who were unprepared for it.

While the economic significance of the facts passed under review cannot be denied, it is evident that business and professional classes make up only a small percentage of the Russian Jewish population of New York City--much smaller, indeed, than of the German Jews.

The vast majority of the Russian Jews are on a much lower economic level. They belong to the "masses,” as against the "classes." The cause will be easily understood if we remember that the average Russian Jewish immigrant brings the magnificent capital of $8 into this country, while the average non-Jewish immigrant is the happy possessor of double that fortune.

Within these "masses" industrial labor of various kinds is the main source of livelihood. The New York Russian Jew is a wage worker, notwithstanding the numerous exceptions to the rule. The examples of wage workers of yesterday changing into employers of labor almost overnight are many. Lately these examples have been rapidly multiplying with the remarkable changes going on within the clothing industry--a process of decentralization, due to the legislative difficulties put in the way of the domestic system, which was the backbone of the clothing industry some years ago. In 1900, New York state had more than 4,000 establishments for manufacture of clothing, most of them in New York City, and a very large proportion in Russian Jewish hands. Yet the number of these proprietors is insignificant in comparison with more than 100,000 workers in this same industry in the same state. The vast majority of the newcomers also join this industrial army, in this as well as other branches of manufacturing. The question of the economic condition of the Russian Jew in New York is therefore preeminently the question of wages, hours, and conditions of labor in general.

The predominance of industrial laborers in a social group that long had the reputation of being fit for commercial life only is striking. The Russian Jews in their own country are largely engaged in commercial occupations into which they were forced many decades ago. It was but natural that the first immigrants of the eighties continued here in the same channels. Hence the extreme popularity of the peddler's basket, which has helped to support many a hungry family and has laid the foundation for snug little fortunes to be invested in larger ventures. Within the last twenty years the change has been remarkable--in New York and a few other large cities, more than in the rest of the country whither a few Russian Jews have wandered. Ordinary door-to-door peddling has degenerated into begging in its lower forms; in its "higher" form of custom peddling it approaches a mild form of swindling, and whatever the lucrative properties of the occupation, the social standing of its members is far lower than that of common everyday wage workers.

Whatever we may think of the practical advantages or disadvantages of the concentration of the clothing industry in Jewish hands, its scientific value cannot be denied. Here we have an industry so thoroughly Jewish (in New York) and with the Russian Jew predominating so strongly that the statistical data of the clothing industry cannot but reflect the conditions of the Russian Jewish worker in New York.

The objection may certainly be raised that the data concerning this industry tell us only of that part of the Russian Jewish colony which is employed in tailoring, and this part, no matter how large, is still considerably smaller than the whole. This objection must be sustained if we desire scientific accuracy. But, on the other hand, a tendency toward the leveling of wages in various related industries cannot be denied; the entrance into the tailoring industry is not obstructed by difficulties of a technical or legal nature. It must be admitted, therefore, that there is no economic ground for considering the condition of the Russian Jewish tailor exceptionally high as compared with the worker of the same nationality in other industrial branches. The average earnings of the tailor will be nearer the bottom than the top.

According to the Twelfth Census5 there have been employed in the various branches of the clothing industry of the United States, over half a million wage earners, more than 30,000 salaried men, in addition to probably more than 50,000 proprietors (though the number is not given of 48,497 establishments). The value of the production amounted to $804,509,370. If we consider the factory production of clothing exclusively, we shall have 205,631 wage earners and products having a value of $431,881,748. Out of this, New York state shows an enormous share, more than one-half of the total American industry--90,519 wage workers and $233,721,653 of products. These figures tell an eloquent story of the magnitude of the commercial interests represented by the Jew, and primarily the Russian Jew.

The statistical data of the clothing industry in the city of New York, especially interests us at this moment. Combining the data for all the clothing industry proper, men's as well as women's, factory work as well as custom work and repairing, we find in New York City6  8,266 establishments with a capital of $78,387,849; 90,950 workingmen; and a value of products of $239,879,414. So much for the extent of the clothing industry. If we consider that twenty years ago the capital invested in this industry throughout the country was only $88,068,969, or hardly more than the present share of New York City alone, the results of the industrial activity of the New York Jews will be appreciated.

The following tables will, it is hoped, be found both interesting and instructive:

Average Weekly Wages (1900)


 American manufactures in general............................  $9.82



 Men's clothing, factory product……..........................    11.36 5.08 2.75
 Women's clothing, factory product….........................  12.10 5.86 3.14

We should not trust wage statistics implicitly. Yet if these data, calculated from official tables, mean anything, they indicate that the economic position of the Jewish worker in the clothing trade, while not at the top, is surely not at the bottom of the American working class, as his wages are considerably above the average. Let us continue our investigation a little further, and compare the clothing trade in New York with manufactures in general in the same city.

             Taking the average of 264 specified industries in  New York,7 we obtain the following data :

Average Wages, Workers In New York


 Manufacturers........................................................   $12.38    $6.42    $3.36
 Men's clothing, factory product………......................    12.26 6.34 2.94
 Women's clothing, factory product….........................  12.62 6.86 3.72

            Again, this table corroborates the conclusions we reached from the previous figures. The close correspondence of these figures is no mere coincidence. It conclusively shows that the Jewish trades are not below the average even in New York, where wages are higher, because living is dearer and labor better organized than in many other industrial communities.

The foregoing figures are based upon the Federal Census. A study of another authority, the reports of the New York Bureau of Statistics of Labor, seems to lead to different conclusions. In the tables of average wages, which this bureau publishes yearly, the wages in the clothing and tobacco industries appear among the lowest. Mention of this fact is made because the statistics of the Department of Labor are very popular with the New York press. Investigation reveals the fact that only the wages of union trades are here enumerated, i.e., of the best paying, we might say “aristocratic" branches of labor. Of course, the average Jewish workman has not yet reached the standard of the highly paid American union mechanic. But in the vast majority of cases his condition is much above that of the ignorant laborer.

Ordinary observation will corroborate the conclusions drawn from statistical tables. If we disregard for the present the very new arrival, who usually falls into the clutches of the most unscrupulous employer, whether of Jewish faith or any other faith, the condition of the average Jewish tailor is not so hopelessly bad as many pessimists would make us believe. It is undoubtedly better than the condition of those of his brethren whom he leaves behind in the old country. If it were not so we should have no constantly growing stream of immigration. This is a matter of course. But what is more noteworthy is that his general standard of life is much above that of many other nationalities of the population of New York City. He may not have the taste, the style, the general "savoir vivre" so characteristic of the American workingman. Not only does he earn less, but his wife has not been instilled with the same training of cleanliness and neatness which characterizes the American women. On the side of expenditure as well as income, the Jewish tailor has much to learn from the American; aesthetically, his home is much below the average American home. On the other hand, he is free in the majority of cases from those faults of wastefulness and dissipation which characterize many Irish, Italian, and sometimes even German workingmen; and his home has many claims to comfort and well­being. The ordinary, busy Jewish tailor keeps a fairly good table, has a parlor with a parlor set of furniture, and is able to indulge in an occasional visit to the Jewish theatre.

The following table will show how prevalent the needle industries are among the Russian Jews in New York :


Dressmakers..................................................................... 314 1,948 2,262
Hat and cap makers........................................................... 278 298 576
Milliners............................................................................ 68 668 736
Seamstresses................................................................... 1,286 4,021 5,307
Sewing machine operatives................................................. ------ 273 273
Shirt, collar and cuff makers............................................... 1,043 509 1,552
Tailors.............................................................................. 20,323 3,304 23,627
Total in needle trades......................................................... 23,312 11,021 34,333
Total in manufacturing and mechanical pursuits.................... 44,160 14,362 58,522
Per cent in needle trades.................................................... 52.8 76.8 58.6

          Thus, almost 53 per cent. of male Russian Jewish workers and 77 per cent female are employed in the needle industries. There are also hundreds of "non-Jewish" trades, in which, nevertheless, scores of Russian Jewish working men can be found. Such are plumbing, cabinet­making, paper-hanging, mirror-framing, printing, engraving, and many others. As is shown in the above table, however, the majority are still allied to the needle trades, and it remains true that the needle has saved the Russian Jew in New York. This tendency to enter other industries will be more noticed in the future than in the past. Especially is this true of the second generation, the American born Russian Jews: they are free from those conditions which have forced their parents along narrower lines.

It is hardly necessary to prove that the average wages in these enumerated Jewish trades, with the possible exception of the tobacco industry, are not below the wages in the clothing trades. As a matter of ordinary observation, wages in many of these trades, as well as in some branches of the clothing industry, rise above $12, and often reach over $20 per week.

The claim is often made that while the nominal wages of the Jewish tailor in the busy season may be comparatively high, his employment is irregular, and his actual average weekly income is much smaller than would appear at first sight. That there is a great deal of truth in this statement cannot be denied. The needle trades are season trades to a great extent, and, like all other season trades, are subject to great irregularity. While the average employment of the union workers in all trades in the first quarter of 1901 was, according to the New York Bureau of Labor Statistics, 67 days, in the tailoring trades it was 54 days. The difference is not inconsiderable, but is partly compensated for by the rush of work and almost constant overtime during the busy season. The overtime work is interrupted by long breaks, and is usually paid for at a higher rate. The arrangement, however, is one that is by no means conducive to the health of the Jewish worker. The enforcement of the ten-hour day is about as efficient in the case of Jewish union workers as in that of most New York workingmen, with the exception of a few very strong trades, the building trades for example, which have succeeded in reducing it below ten hours, and in keeping it there.

The conclusions to which this necessarily brief statistical study leads are almost too self evident to require any lengthy discussion. As far as the present condition of the Russian Jew is concerned, we find that in New York, at all events, it is not below par. The same differentiation in economic classes exists in the Russian Jewish colony as in the other elements of the population, it being inevitable in modern society. In the small circle of millionaires, our Russian brethren may not have their proportionate quota; their middle class, and what is more important, their working class, is certainly not below, and possibly above, the average level economically, especially above the average level of other foreign elements, such as the Italian, the Irish, and the Austrian. This comparatively satisfactory condition is the more remarkable when all the great difficulties which the Russian Jew was forced to overcome are taken into consideration: the poverty of the new arrival, his lack of knowledge of any practical trade, his muscular weakness (as is pointed out by Dr. Fishberg in this volume). These difficulties cannot be denied. But only gross ignorance or inhuman cruelty can hold the Russian Jew responsible for such conditions. History shows that for many centuries the Jews have been forced away from manual labor into commercial life. Yet at the first opportunity, the Russian Jew became a hard and patient industrial worker, and, let us add, an extremely useful worker. The prime object of this work was necessarily the acquisition of means of support. But the very success of the Russian Jew in attaining this object shows that there was a place and demand for his industrial activity. The concentration of the Russian Jewish population in a few industrial centres has long been spoken of as an evident evil; yet this concentration has helped the Russian Jew to a ready sale of his labor, and has saved hundreds of thousands from dependence upon charitable institutions. It is the much abused needle and sewing machine that have solved the problem of how to dispose of swarms of Russian Jewish immigrants. It is the needle that has revolutionized a large and important industry in which hundreds of millions of dollars were invested. It is the needle that has contributed a share toward making this city an important manufacturing centre of the country, and last, but not least, it is this Jewish Russian needle that has made the American nation the best dressed in the world.

It must be acknowledged that after all is said for or against immigration, the fear of the American working class that the immigrant, with his lower standard of life, may reduce American wages, remains the greatest objection, nay, the only objection to immigration which has a certain validity. Now, then, it was to be expected that the Russian Jew should produce such an effect. What did the Russian Jew who immigrated to America in the eighties and early nineties know of unions and demands for a higher standard? The reader will believe that I have stated strongly the case against the Russian Jewish worker. The more remarkable is the progress the Russian Jewish population has made within the very short period of fifteen or twenty years, the progress which has made the Russian Jew a fighter within the ranks of the American labor movements and a force for the betterment of the American working class.

The report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 1902 furnishes the following data as to the membership for the borough of Manhattan in the unions of the clothing and allied trades, that is, those specifically Jewish: Buttonhole makers, 150; cloakmakers (this includes Brooklyn), 8,000; cloth examiners, 86; cloth spongers, 214; clothing cutters, 1,500; coat makers, 4,255; jacket makers, 350; kneepants makers, 2,206; neckwear cutters, 230; overall workers, 49; pants makers, 1,800; pressers, 1,500; tailors, 1,000; vest makers, 1,550; wrapper makers, 839; cloth hat and cap operators, 1,209; shirt cutters, 315; shirtwaist makers, 1,660. This is a total of some 20,000 for the borough of Manhattan. These numbers refer almost exclusively to Jewish workers; there are, besides, many Jewish workingmen members of various other unions. And if we consider that the total membership of unions in the borough is about 150,000, the part Jewish workers play in the union movement will easily be appreciated. It is true, of course, that these unions are far inferior to the oldest American unions in strength, that often they are ephemeral in existence; the very "round" figures of the official statistics are an indication thereof. Frequently they organize for a particular occasion, as a great strike, only to sink almost into nothingness as soon as that particular purpose is accomplished. Their treasuries very seldom, if ever, contain large sums. It is not surprising, then, if the opinion is often expressed that the unions of Jewish tailors exist on paper only. Yet this is far from being the unbiased truth. The teachings of a circle of enthusiastic and energetic people all through the eighties have not fallen on barren ground. There certainly exists collective bargaining in the clothing industry--and that is the most essential feature of unionism. It is sufficient to talk to any clothing manufacturer in New York, and listen to his invocations against the unions, to be convinced that these unions are a real power.

We agree that the picture drawn above is very optimistic. It is because it is not complete. Not the whole of the New York clothing industry is in such good condition as to its employees, for who has not heard of the New York sweatshops?

Of the horrors of the sweatshops so much has been written and spoken that scarcely an intelligent New Yorker can be found who is not to some degree aware of their evils. Private investigators as well as authoritative official bodies have made thorough studies of the situation. The peculiar conditions of the clothing industry which make home work and the exploitation of ignorant immigrants so easy, have facilitated the establishment of the system. The very "green" immigrant who knows nothing of the conditions of the market is an easy prey to the sharks of his own or any other nationality. The subcontracting system, once established, was a terrible competitor to the legitimate fac­tory. .

To a certain extent, this pernicious system was even advantageous to the worker. It supplied him with a source of immediate income almost the day after his arrival; and no matter how small the pay, he looked upon his employer as his benefactor. As the pay was often too small to support the large family even in the poorest style, it became necessary for his wife and children to join in work, and the "benefactor," with his sweatshops, very often an old friend from the old country, provided them all with work. It was fortunate that this system extended only to a few "Jewish" industries and so affected but little the New York workingman in productive employments, or the opposition against the Jewish workers would have been strong, and in a measure justified. The sweatshop is not an exclusively Jewish institution; it has been, and remains, very widespread. Italians to a large degree share it.

The sweatshop, with its inevitable trinity of harmful consequences--low wages, long hours, and female and child labor--remains the essential economic problem of the Russian Jewish population of New York City, as far as any economic problem can be national in so cosmopolitan a city as New York. The Jewish unions have tried to remedy the evil, but the problem has proven too extensive for them. It is evidently a problem for general social interference, for legislative enactment. Luckily, the sanitary aspects of the system have proven so dangerous that solicitude for social safety has made possible a movement which consideration for the interests of the poor immigrants could never accomplish. The numerous laws against sweatshops enacted of late in New York, as well as in Boston and Phila­delphia, though far from being decisive in their influence, have yet had some beneficial result. The movement must grow in force, if the final aim--the transformation of the home industry into a factory system--is to be accomplished. Already the first steps in this direction are to be noticed. Because of the difficulties put in the way of sweatshops, the contract system is giving way in New York to small factories. Home work will have to be fought against, notwithstanding the constitutional difficulties of interfering with the personal liberty of the American sovereign in his castle; it will have to be fought in spite of the resistance of the exploited home workers. In a pathetic little story, a talented Yiddish writer wittily describes the objection and fear of a Jewish tailor of a "tyrannical American law which will interfere with an honest Jew working in the evening." The remoter results of such legislation cannot be appreciated by the lower strata of the working mass. The religious aspect of the question, the necessity of a Sabbath rest, which often drives the old fash­ioned Jew from a well regulated factory into a dingy sweatshop, will also command serious attention. Some modification of the strict Sunday laws will probably be found necessary.

The large Russian Jewish population presents, as we have seen, the various elements of social stratification and is not free from any social problem that confronts the great American people. But in the economic field we do not see any specifically Jewish question except those mentioned, whatever the condition of affairs may be in the educational or in the intellectual fields. And as the problems are general, and not specifically Jewish, so the solution must be.

The writer of these lines is conscious, however, of a widespread and very different view. There is a very general cry in certain Jewish quarters, even more than in the non­Jewish ones, that the rapid increase of the Jewish population in New York has given birth to a specific Jewish problem, which is mainly economic, but also moral and intellectual. "The East Side Problem," "The Ghetto Problem" are synonymous terms. The concentration (or congestion, as they prefer to style it) of the Jews in New York as well as the other large cities, is an unmitigated evil as well as an economic mistake. Pathetic descriptions of the dirt, misery and squalor of the Ghetto are commonly associated with this argument. The fact is usually disregarded that there is a great deal more dirt, misery and squalor in Italian, Irish and other kindred "ghettos" of  Manhattan Island.

The following few lines are from an authoritative Jewish source:8

"The conditions amid which the Jews of the New York Ghetto are compelled to exist are slowly but surely undermining both that moral and physical health of which we have hitherto been so proud. The unspeakable evils that the tenements and the sweatshops as they still persist inevitably produce in the way of depressed vitality, sickness, consequent poverty, and death, are evils that it behooves us to endeavor to kill at the root.... Every attempt to, improve the tenement house, to remove present residents of the Ghetto to outlying portions of the city, to small towns and rural communities, should receive an earnest help, and active cooperation.... By its geographical position, the city of New York has peculiar limitations with respect to population which may not be overstepped without a serious menace to the community."

This quotation is typical of the arguments which have found their practical realization in the agitation for removal.  As the causes of concentration are preeminently economic, so its economic results are of utmost importance. There is a tendency to define these economic results in one short and significant word, "poverty," and removal to other cities is pointed out as a relief. The following statistical data may help us to decide how far the claim is true that poverty is the result of the Russian Jewish congestion in New York, how far the condition of the Jewish worker may be improved by his removal to a small town. Wages being the source of income of the workingman, his prosperity depends financially upon the level of wages:

Men's Clothing, Factory Product


United States......................................................  $11.36   $5.08    $2.75
New York City..................................................... 12.26 6.34 2.94
Outside New York City......................................... 10.70 4.88 2.73

The last two lines indicate the difference in average wages in the tailoring trade in New York and outside New York, and tell a quite eloquent story. The same peculiarity observed in the women's clothing industry:


Women's Clothing, Factory Product 


United States.......................................................  $12.10   $5.86   $3.14
New York City...................................................... 12.62 6.94 3.72
Outside New York City.......................................... 10.62 4.98 2.83


Men's Clothing, Factory Product


New York City....................................................  $12.26  $6.34   $2.94
Chicago............................................................. 11.86 6.12 3.40
Philadelphia....................................................... 12.40 6.38 3.67
Other Localities................................................... 9.98 4.62 2.70

The table does not seem to afford any justification of the claim that to remove the Russian Jew from New York to the smaller towns is to adjust the labor market.

The other great branch of the tailoring industry, women’s clothing, shows exactly the same condition of affairs:


Women's Clothing, Factory Product


New York City........................................................ $12.62  $6.86   $3.72
Chicago................................................................. 13.14 5.12 2.80
Philadelphia........................................................... 10.80 5.16 3.16
Elsewhere............................................................. 10.02 4.90 2.78

Such are the differences in the wage levels between the large and small towns.

 It is interesting to study the comparative women’s and children's labor in some of the Jewish trades in New York and elsewhere. The following table shows the smallest proportion of this labor in New York City:

Percentage of Women's and Children's Labor Combined


New York City........................................................ 33.6 57.2
Chicago................................................................. 64.2 87.9
Philadelphia........................................................... 35.4 71.1
Elsewhere.............................................................. 73.4 85.1

The closest attention of the reader is invited to these tables. They tell at a glance why the Russian Jew prefers to stay in New York. Instead of being an economic mistake, it is the result of economic sagacity, unconscious perhaps.

The  writer will readily acknowledge that the one-sidedness of the argument leaves it open to serious criticism. He is aware that money wages are often misleading and may not strictly correspond to actual wages, measured in terms of commodities and comforts. Unfortunately a careful search through American statistical literature has failed to disclose information as to retail prices,9 and the workingmen's budgets, published by the Bureau of Labor do not take the difference between large and small towns into consideration.

It cannot be doubted, however, that lower wages go hand in hand with lower expenditures, for the limited credit of the average workingman does not permit his spending more than he earns. But it is undoubtedly true that the general conviction prevails that living is comparatively cheaper in small towns than in large cities. Let us subject the basis of this conviction to a short analysis.

Food, clothing, and shelter are the three prime channels of  expenditure in a workman's family. Food is certainly cheaper in a great many rural and semi-rural communities, where many articles are produced in the neighborhood. With slight exception, however, in rural communities application for industrial energy is not readily found. When we turn to middle-sized cities, where the local supply of vegetable and animal food stuffs is no longer available, this particular advantage vanishes altogether. Wholesale prices for food stuffs are determined in the world's market and only modified by facilities and expenses of transportation. In determining these expenses mere distances are much less important than geographical position, terminal facilities and other matters, in which large centres like New York possess a great advantage over smaller inland cities. Fresh meat, fruits and vegetables are more easily obtained and cost less in New York than in Washington, Syracuse, Oshkosh, or Kalamazoo. That this is especially true of clothing, dry goods, and the thousand and one products of manufacture, daily used in the home, no one will deny, as the large cities, particularly New York, are centres for the production of these goods.

On the other hand, it is equally true that rents are lower in the smaller cities, or rather that the working people pay less rent in the smaller than in the larger cities. The latter form of the statement is preferred because in the smaller town the working man pays less for a shelter, and may even have more room, but seldom gets the many comforts and improvements that even a tenement home in New York provides. Gas, water, washtubs, sometimes a bathtub, or even hot water--all these are luxuries in the small­er towns not to be found in many a workingman's home. Though in the final analysis the worker in the small city is favored in the matter of rent, the difference will hardly overbalance the higher prices for clothing, provisions, and many other incidentals of the household.

The conditions of labor will have to change before the Russian Jew will find it advantageous to go further instead of stopping in New York. The general improvement in the conditions of labor in the smaller towns will have to come first. Only when labor legislation shall have accomplished for the smaller towns what labor unions have partially succeeded in accomplishing in New York will the problem assume another aspect.10

1Jewish World, August 17, 1902.

2 Beckles Wilson, The New America, p. 178.

3 Personally, I doubt the statement. First, Mr. Beckles Wilson has given us no indication of his sources. Secondly, he has left a very important point entirely out of consideration,--that millionaires are only found amidst the population of cities. If only the 33.1 per cent. of the American people which live in the cities are counted then the Jews represent not 1/80, but 8/80 of the American people, or 150/4,000, while their millionaires are only 115/4,000. It is needless to add, however, that all such statistics, which are base upon guesses, are more than worthless; they are absurd.

4 Dr. Price. The Russian Jew in America (in Russian). St. Petersburg, 1891.

5 Vol. IX, pp. 259-302.

6 Twelfth Census, Vol. VIII, p. 622.

7Twelfth Census, Vol. VIII, pp. 625-28.

8  Lee K. Frankel, Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the United Hebrew Charities of the City of New York (1900), pp. 32-34.

9 American price statistics deal with wholesale prices and are therefore of little value for the study of expenses of living.

10 For a fuller discussion of this problem, the reader is referred to the fol­lowing articles of the author: "Concentration or Removal -Which?" American Hebrew, July 17 and 84, 1903, and "Removal!  A New Patent Medicine."

Ibid. September 46, 1908. In the intermediate numbers of this publication, discussions of this point of view may also be found.







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