The Struggle Against Child Labor in the Progressive Era

In the work “Child Labor: Progressive Era Essays” we will talk about important things like child labor. In the 1890s, cities grew as more Americans took urban industrial work. As one of the leading industrial powers of the period, the United State had a variety of enterprises, including the manufacture of iron, steel, crude oil, and textiles. This trend marked a shift from a more agrarian way of life to that of labor for wages. Immigrants would generally arrive in the cities and take up factory work there to make a living. 

Working class and immigrant families often needed to have many family members, including women and children, work in factories to survive. The working conditions in factories were often harsh. Hours were long, typically ten to twelve-hour working conditions were frequently unsafe and led to deadly accidents. Tasks tended to be divided for efficiency’s sake which led to repetitive and monotonous work for employees. The major drivers of the wide use of child labor in the US were the low costs of the child labor force and the wide Introduction of machinery that decreased the role of the physical power of employees. The low costs of child labor become attractive for employers, who wanted to save the costs of the labor force and started to employ women and children to replace male workers. In addition, the Introduction of machinery and new equipment allowed replacement the of male labor with child labor because the physical force of men was not needed anymore, instead, children could perform the same job. 

Hence, being as productive and less costly than male employees, child workers become more attractive for employers. At the same time, child labor was still different from the labor of male workers. To put it more precisely, children still could not perform as much work as male workers did. Nevertheless, children's wages were so low that the employment of the larger number of children was still cheaper for employers than the employment of a larger number of male workers. However, the employment of children raised the problem of unbearable conditions for the work children was unbearable. 

Employers were unaware and just indifferent to the conditions of work of children because, if some children left their workplace or died, they could easily employ others because of the high supply of the labor force in the labor market. In such a way, employers did not care about the conditions of the work of children because they did not affect the productivity of their work and the financial performance of factories and other companies employing children. In addition, there was no legislation that regulated child labor or imposed some liabilities on employers concerning the safety or condition of work for children. 

This period also saw the rapid growth of white-collar jobs as industrial capitalism led to the need for more administrative and clerical workers. Such workers began to be classified with managers in the census as opposed to being classified with skilled craftsmen and unskilled labor. The white-collar workers were further distinguished by earning salaries instead of wages by the hour or piece of work. White-collar jobs did not. A social stratification began to emerge that made white-collar ones. Children of immigrants would aspire to such jobs to increase their social standing in a society that was often prejudiced against newcomers. Although the industry was the primary force of this period, many people still maintained farms across the country. Farming was likely to be subject to periods of financial instability since profits relied on the unpredictability of crops and the marketplace.

10 October 2022
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