Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts

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Cambridge University Press, Mar 31, 1986 - Business & Economics - 469 pages
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Out of Work chronicles the history of unemployment in the United States. It traces the evolution of the problem of joblessness from the early decades of the nineteenth-century to the Great Depression of the 1930s. Challenging the widely held notion that the United States was a labour-scarce society in which jobs were plentiful, it argues that unemployment played a major role in American history long before the crash of the stock market in 1929. Focusing on the state of Massachusetts, Professor Kevssar analyses the economic and social changes that gave birth to the prevalent concept of unemployment. Drawing on previously untapped sources - including richly detailed statistics and vivid verbatim testimony - he demonstrates that joblessness was a pervasive feature of working-class life from the 1870s to the 1920s. The book describes the ingenious, yet quite costly, strategies that unemployed workers devised to cope with the joblessness in the absence of formal governmental assistance. It also explores the many dimensions of working-class life that were profoundly affected by recurrent layoffs and the chronic uncertainty of work. Finally, it demonstrates that the fundamental contours of the Massachusetts experience were repeated, sooner or later, throughout the United States.
 

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Contents

Introduction
1
The social origins of unemployment
9
Early shelters
10
The great transformation
14
Different paths
22
A lengthening shadow
31
Daily earnings and daily wants
36
The era of uncertainty
39
Anxiety and despair
166
Aftereffects
172
Organizing labor
177
The collective problem
178
Helping ones own
186
Shorter hours
191
Protecting turf
202
Voluntarism and involuntary idleness
211

Growth and dependence
40
Panics and depressions
47
Idleness in good times
57
The reserve army of the unemployed
69
Sharing the burden
77
Boys and men
90
Women without work
96
Segmented competition
109
From place to place
111
Cities and towns
112
Unemployment and mobility
123
Tramps
130
Coping
143
A spectrum of needs
144
Institutional relief
150
Selfinsurance snowfalls kin and grocers
155
The fruits of their labor
216
From the Common to the State House
222
Capitalists Are the Cause of the Unemployed
225
Lift Up Your Hearts
237
Confrontation and redemption
246
The greatest evil of our competitive industrial system
250
18701907
251
Reformers and businessmen
262
Two steps forward one step back
272
Toward a new political economy
285
Epilogue the Bay State and the nation
299
Supplementary tables
308
About the numbers unemployment statistics before the Great Depression
342
Notes
359
Index
453
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About the author (1986)

Alexander Keyssar is Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard University. He is a specialist in late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century social and political history. His first book, Out of Work: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts, won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians. His most recent book is The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award of the American Historical Association.

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