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One of the most intensive studies ever made of unemployment work relief in the United States, has just been completed at Harvard University by Dr. Elizabeth W. Gilboy, Secretary of the Harvard University Committee on Research in the Social Sciences. Her study, entitled "Applicants for Work Relief," was published today by the Harvard University Press.
Dr. Gilboy found that the relief problem is probably "permanent;" that the majority of persons applying for work relief are not "ne'er-de-wells," but ordinarily hard-working people who were able to support themselves before depression unemployment set in. That the unemployed put off applying for work relief as long as possible, exhausting all resources and going heavily into debt; that far from living in luxury on the relief rolls, work relief families have been poorly fed, clothed and housed, with income running well below the minimum standards established by the relief authorities; that the average debt of families seeking work relief was $234, and that families must continue to subsist on credit for part of current expenses; that unemployment is disproportionately severe among youths just out of school and older workers over forty; and that most public complaints of relief workers refusing jobs in private industry are not justified by the facts.
The Massachusetts relief problem is unusually severe, and is "of long-time rather than short-time significance" due to the fact that "New England in general, and Massachusetts in particular, may be looked upon as a region economically past its prime," Dr. Gilboy said.
Despite the many serious criticisms which have been leveled at the government work-relief program, including charges of poor planning, inefficiency, and politics, Dr. Gilboy concludes that in view of the emergency conditions, the government system has functioned "inadequately." Since the emergency has passed, however, she stated, "a more coordinated, more flexible, and better planned system is now necessary in order to take care of the permanent residue of workrelief applicants and to handle the able-bodied unemployed in future depressions." The system should be "federally controlled, with cooperation from state and local agencies," she said.
Relief Problem Is Permanent
Dr. Gilboy's reasons for believing there is a permanent relief problem are four. First, "the chance of reemploy-men for those on the relief rolls who are 40 years of age or older are small unless the preference in private industry for hiring younger men changes." Second, "there appears to be a distinct prejudice against hiring workers who have been on relief. This prejudice may be attributed to some extent to the idea, which still purists, that there is something wrong with anyone who ap- plies for relief. But it is partly due to the belief that work relief affects adversly the skill and morale of its recipients."
Third, "there are undoubtedly cases where the poor management of relief projects, the bad use of skills, political maneuvering etc., have had the reverse effect of that intended, and to have led to the deterioration of workmen on relief." Fourth, "in a state like Massachusetts, where a declining industrial tendency was observed early in the twenties, there is very little hope of reabsorbing the unemployed, even if they were considered desirable workers and industry wished to hire them."
"Age," she said, "remains one of the principal deterrents to the absorption of work-relief recipients in private industry. There is, in fact, a serious problem at both ends of the working span. The young and inexperienced, just out of school, have had an equally hard time in getting good jobs with these who are past forty. The danger of continued idleness is greater for them than for the older workers.
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