One Worker In Eight Is Unemployed : Why ?
By FRANCIS HUNT,
HE history of unemployment dates back to the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the compilation of official statistics trade union returns from 1850-1927 showed as the number of workless amongst their members a proportion varying from 2 per cent. to 15 per cent. During the past 16 years it has not, except for one very brief period, fallen below the level of a million. Moreover, the returns of the Ministry of Labour do not embrace the " black-coated " workers, nor several other grades outside the scope of unemployment insurance.
Some idea of these numbers may be gauged from the 1931 census which showed 18,853,376 as the number of people gainfully occupied in England and Wales only, while the total number of insured workers, upon whom the Ministry's returns are based, is at the moment • less than 14,000,000. Therefore we do not know exactly how many people are without work; but the published statistics are of necessity an underestimate. A notable economist has estimated that, in 1931, at the peak of the depression, the actual number unemployed rose •to considerably over 3,000,000.
Who Are the Unemployed ?
Now we are enjoying a boom in trade, whether a real boom or an artificial one is a matter of opinion, it is a propitious moment to examine the unemployment problem, particularly the case of that obdurate million-and-a-quarter — the hard core of our workless.
Who are the unemployed? Are they victims of circumstances, social misfits. or just a collection of lazy ne'er-dowells? I add the latter because there are still some who believe the workless are idle by reason of their own slothfulness. Adherents of this remarkable view are invariably those who can never hear of a slum-clearance scheme without sniffing and trotting out the apocryphal story of baths being used as coal bunkers.
In the middle of January this year the total number of persons in Great Britain who were registered as seeking work was 1,689,223. Of these 1,369.631 were male and 319,592 female, thus unemployment is appreciably heavier on men than on women; while the proportion of insured men to women is slightly less than 3 to 1, of unemployment it is over 4 to I.
Examining the evil, firstly occupationally, secondly regarding the age-groups of the unemployed, and the duration of their enforced inactivity.
Unemployment is heaviest amongst the so-called " unskilled workers, and lightest in the sheltered trades such as printing. The 1931 census of occupations showed 30.5 .per cent. of the first category workless. Recent Ministry of Labour returns show that the most hardly hit industries are fishing, shipbuilding and ship repairing, building, and coal-mining. These have
been " depressed " occupations now for many years, The rearmament programme has temporarily absorbed a hugh section of redundant engineers (that legacy of a similar tragic boom 1914-1918). Organised short-time hides the facts somewhat in the textile trades.
In particular, at the beginning of this year, there were registered as unemployed 28.3 per cent. of insured dock and riverside labourers, 25.8 per cent. in the shipping and shipbuilding trades, and 30.8 per cent. in the fishing industry.
Young Adult Workless
Coming to the second con.sideration : the age-groups of the workless. As might be expected cheap juvenile labour can find an outlet far more easily than the dearer adult labour, and, as previously illustrated, cheaper female labour than the better paid male.
In 1931, the total proportion of insured men out of work was 15.2 per cent.. these being between the ages of 21-64. Unemployment was distributed as follows : age 21-24, 15.2 per cent.; 25-29, 13.5 per cent.; 30-34, 12.6 per cent.; 35-44, 13.0 per cent.; 45-54, 15,9 per cent.; 55-59, 20.2 per cent; 60-64, 26.0 per cent. A separate and more recent official Ministry enquiry showed that out of a total of 98.000 men who had been workless for over two years, nearly one-third of them were over the age of 55.
Thirdly: the duration of unemployment. Of those applying for unemployment insurance benefit in January last (a considerable portion of the unemployed, incidentally, do not do so) 58 per cent. had been workless for less than three months, and 21.3 per cent. for over a year.
Can We Do Anything?
Very briefly these are the main facts of unemployment. Statistics relating to this terrible evil have been made available, reiterated and discussed, apparently without any lasting result, until one of our M.P.s from the derelict areas was moved passionately to exclaim recently that " There was not a pore of the unemployed that had not been card-indexed."
Can we do anything about it, anything to cure the scourge, not merely to palliate it with organised charity which can, at the utmost, only touch the fringe of the distress? Study the facts, bearing in mind the while that industrial systems are man-made, that they can and must be altered if circumstances demand, and circumstances (most emphatically) do demand when a system is such that one in every eight workers are forced to be idle " because no man bath hired them."
(To be continued) Next week Mr. Hunt will discuss why we are suffering in this way. He blames our dwindling export trade, and suggests that we should "expand our home market, and at the same time plan our labour."