Labor Day falls in the midst of a presidential campaign in which rising unemployment is a prime domestic focus. Democrats prefer to blame trade policy, while Republicans often point the finger at high oil prices. Seldom mentioned these days are automation and immigrants, although half a century ago, they were considered among the key causes of joblessness.
The Times, throughout its 127-year history, has proposed a host of solutions for unemployment. At the turn of the century, the paper's answer was straightforward: Idle hordes in Eastern cities need simply move West. The same logic applied to poverty-stricken masses in England, who needed only to board a steamer for Canada -- where at least young girls, if not Londoners, would be welcomed. Shortly after World War II, Times editorialists posited the odd theory that schools' neglect of core arts and sciences courses was creating a generation of unemployed professionals who might spread dangerous communist or Nazi ideals.
This review of Times editorials past might provide some insights into today's problems -- or just a chuckle over how much, or how little, things have changed.
June 8, 1908
No Unemployed Necessary
They are busy making hay while the sun shines in the tiers of States below the old slave line. They will be harvesting wheat there soon. In three weeks the tiers of States above the line will all be cutting hay.
For the next hundred days there will be work for every man willing and able in the United States. The best charity that could be devised in the congested centers of the East would be to send the idle out West. Kansas wants 25,000 hands for the hay and harvest time.
It would benefit those accustomed to city life to get out in the prairies and among the oak openings of the West. Some of them would never return and this would be good for the men, for the East and for the West.
California farmers are busy now with the fruit harvest and the idle in the cities can find work and good pay in the orchards.
Nov. 12, 1909
A Faulty Economic Policy
We daily hear lamentable reports of the "out-of-works" in London and other parts of the British empire, mostly in England. ...
The efforts of the government seem to be directed to providing food and shelter in a meager and unsatisfactory way for these people in such deep distress. This seems to us to be a false economy. Across the sea in the British colonies, particularly in Canada, there is easily room for the surplus working population of England to find prompt employment at good wages. In Toronto the other day an employment office informed the correspondent of a London paper that if 1,000 young women were sent to him during the coming spring months he would find work for every one of them immediately. ...
These Canadians have a horror of the average unskilled Englishman seeking employment in Canada, and of all the undesirables the Londoner is the least wanted. But when it comes to the English girl, she makes her way in Canada in a marvelous fashion.
Jan. 15, 1919
Will There Be a Sex War?
Unemployment is one of the gravest problems confronting the United States -- or, for that matter, the whole world -- during the period of reconstruction. Thousands of soldiers are being discharged daily. Wartime plants are being closed down; new peace industries have not yet taken their places. Capital is marking time, awaiting readjustments. ...
The situation is further complicated by the employment of women to take the places of men sent on active service and to meet the demand for war material at a time of national crisis. ...
Now in the majority of cases these women took the places of men who, under the draft or as volunteers, went forth to war for their country, their homes and their future freedom -- and in so doing had to sacrifice interests, positions, businesses and jobs on which depended the daily bread of their families and children. So with the return of these men, who have so thoroughly finished up the unpleasant work on which the country sent them forth, a harder test of their patriotism is suddenly thrust upon the women. Wherever the claim of the returning soldier is beyond dispute, will the woman who took his place while he was away "on duty" be ready without a protest to give it back to him? Or shall we see an industrial sex war added to the world's many troubles?
Beyond dispute many women will protest vigorously at surrendering their newly gained economic and industrial freedom. Moreover, their patriotic efforts undoubtedly deserve whatever measure of reward the coming industrial readjustments render possible in the way of new positions and new jobs. But The Times holds that the country has a debt to pay to its soldiers and sailors that must be placed at the head of the list. ...
Oct. 17, 1948
Too Many Narrow Professionals
... America is probably giving its young men and women more "job training" at the college level than is available in all the rest of the world. Much of this training is at the expense of academic studies -- how much it is hard to estimate. It is a guess that letters, the arts and the sciences receive no more attention than they did a generation ago when college enrollments were much smaller.
President James B. Conant of Harvard University is troubled by the foreseeable consequence of this kind of training. If there are more doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists than the economy can support, the result, he believes, will be "frustrated individuals with long education and considerable intelligence," and "from such people come the leaders of antidemocratic movements, whether they originated from the right or the left." ...
Dr. [Arnold] Toynbee has taken note of [unemployed professionals] in his "Study of History." Hitler, he points out, recruited a lot of these "disinherited" professionals into the Nazi movement -- the Herr Doktors who could not practice their professions profitably in a country that was overstocked with doctor's degrees and were bitter against a society that would not make room for them. Goebbels is the star exhibit. India has such a class struggling for place in the civil service -- professionals who are ripe for the work of Moscow. ...
Technical training is essential in many activities, but there is no use in exclusively preparing young men and women to fit into niches which are already filled when they arrive, diploma in hand, for the fitting. ...
What education needs is the golden mean that it used to teach.
Sept. 24, 1963
Unemployment and the Braceros
The bracero program, under which Mexican farm-laborers are brought to the United States for a portion of the year to help in the harvesting of crops, was begun because there was a need for it. That need will remain so long as other means of harvesting are unavailable.
This is a point overlooked or deliberately ignored by those who oppose extending the bracero program, due to expire at the end of this year. They argue, among other things, that it is "immoral" to import foreign workers when the United States is burdened with a serious unemployment problem.
Yet, as Sen. [Thomas] Kuchel noted on the Senate floor, cessation of the Mexican farm labor program "will not mean a new job opportunity for the unemployed metal worker on an airframe assembly line in Los Angeles." Nor will it necessarily mean a job opportunity for the migrant U.S. farm worker: last month the California Agricultural Labor Committee had 49,000 certified openings for domestic farm laborers, who by law have first call on jobs.
Efforts to fill these openings with U.S. laborers were largely unsuccessful. Mexican nationals had to be used.
The explanation for this is in part the explanation for the whole bracero program. The crops on which Mexican laborers are principally employed -- tomatoes, lettuce, celery, strawberries, snap beans -- are "stoop labor" crops. Harvesting them means working bent over in the sun, and the work must go fast since a delay of even one day means a loss of millions.
U.S. workers simply will not do this kind of labor. ...
Dec. 15, 1963
Automation and Unemployment
Automation's benefits, which can be summarized briefly as making better products more widely available at lowered costs, are frequently forgotten in the rush to condemn technological change as a destroyer of jobs. In many minds, therefore, automation is the prime villain in the unemployment picture. ...
Two obvious facts must be accepted about automation: It is here to stay, because it is necessary to industrial progress -- and in the long run, to the public welfare. [And] the unemployment problem to which automation has contributed cannot be solved negatively by trying to halt automation; this would only be a step backwards.
Nor can automation be solved by featherbedding. Some union spokesmen, for example, have suggested a shorter work week with no cut in pay as an answer to automation. Then, supposedly, more workers would have to be hired to maintain the productivity of a 40-hour week. But this scheme could only serve as an incentive for industry to automate even more. ...