Market for Farm People
by Helen Hill
U.S. Department of Agriculture
unemployment insurance, between 1929 and 1933, was confined
to scattered firms in exceptional industries and a few highly
enterprising states. But the three quarter million people who
made up the net migration back to the land between 1930 and
1933 found unemployment insurance on the farm.
is an exceptional batch of records on this subject. Dam building
is a skilled business. When the Tennessee Valley Authority began
its operations, there was danger of Knoxville becoming a Mecca
for the unemployed. As part of a definite labor policy, the
Authority encouraged the registry of qualified persons already
on the spot. Some 44,000 applications were filed. Power drill
operators; cement finishers; carpenters; electricians; shovel
operators; painters, stone and brick masons; timekeepers; plumbers;
steamfitters; machinists; the list read like a trade directory.
During the first twenty months of its operation, the TVA gave
employment to more than 13,000 laborers, none of whose skills
were remotely connected with agriculture, yet practically all
of whom were found on hand within the Valley limits.
a good part of industrial America spent the depression on the
farm. But the cities didn't pay the board bill.
age assistance, except as a charity measure, has been almost
as rare in America as unemployment insurance. During the latter
part of the 1920's, when the speedups of the new technology
set forty as the age when factory workers are divided into the
quick and the dead, the farm offered a welcome alternative to
permanent unemployment. The farm didn't get paid for this support,
a balance of payments is obviously not a balance. If America's
farms and America's cities were separate political entities,
trade between the two would be today in much the same condition
as trade between Europe and the United States, and for reasons
(including the tariff reason) that are much the same. The fact
that they are not separate political entities prolongs the period
the one hand, agriculture continues to use the capital of its
soil to make up the disparity between the prices of farm commodities
and the prices of industrial goods. On the other hand, large
agricultural areas withdraw from the price system almost altogether.
land that was least able to support a large population lost
the most people when times were good, but took on the most people
when times were bad. Some of the most extreme shifts are in
the agricultural counties of states bordering on the great industrial
backing up of population in the poorer farm areas is increasing
the number of communities incapable of supplying the most elementary
services in connection with education and public health. It
is increasing the population fitted only for the unskilled,
inaccurate and intermittent work of which both industry and
agriculture have decreasing need.
growth of such farm areas decreases the market for industrial
goods. The relation between farm income and factory payrolls,
between farm purchasing power and urban employment, has been
too well and too frequently emphasized to need further mention.
The existence of communities living on the ragged edge of the
commercial system is, however, a threat to industry not only
because of its lack of consuming power. Its producing power
is also a threat.
mill wages, in recent years, have been low in part because southern
mill wages were lower. Southern mill wages were and are low
because back of the mills where existence is precarious are
the mountains where existence is more precarious still, peopled
by men and women to many of whom a pittance seems like a windfall.
are there, waiting for a chance to reenter the industrial system,
willing to reenter the industrial system at wage levels which
weaken the standards of consumption that a mass production industry
must maintain if it is to survive.
Economies with industrialized
sectors cannot maintain life on too great a number of income
levels. The market for industrial goods must be kept open if
the machines are to be kept running. Stabilization of the market
for farm people is directly related to stabilization of the
market for industrial goods.
YA GONNA KEEP 'EM...
of Rural America by Lewis W. Hine