§ 1. Enumeration of principal measures - Federal, State and municipal boards of health should be better appreciated and supported. Their powers of investigation, administration, and disseminating information should be enlarged. School hygiene should be practised, and personal hygiene more emphasized. The multiplication of degenerates should be made impossible.
[Extract from the Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture, 1910, pp. 194-200. Paper by George K. Holmes, Chief of Division of Production and Distribution, Bureau of Statistics.]
Various investigations. The subject of the wage rates of farm labor was first systematically investigated in this country by the Bureau of Statistics of the Department of Agriculture in 1866. The investigation was repeated with variations every few years until the latest one in 1909. The results of nineteen investigations are of record, covering the period of forty-four years, beginning with the abnormal conditions at the close of the Civil War and passing through the two severe industrial depressions of 1873-1877 and 1893-1897, and the less severe depressions of 1884-86, 1903-4, and 1907-8.
From the beginning of this period to about 1897 agricultural overproduction was frequent. Immense areas of new public land came into cultivation, and farmers were painfully in debt, and often the prices of products were unprofitable, if not positively below the cost of production. Since 1897, and more especially since 1902, the financial condition of farmers has much improved. All of the conditions mentioned may be related to the wages of farm labor, and, in fact, apparently have been.
In the statement of wage rates, contained in this article, all original rates during the currency period 1866-1878 have been converted to gold. Some of the investigations were made in the spring with no explanation whether the published rates represented the current year or the preceding year; indeed, some of the wage rates, as, for instance, the rates of day labor in harvest, must necessarily have belonged to the preceding year. In another case two investigations were made, but the published results were combined. These statements account for the use of a double year in several instances.
Wage rates of men per month. The average wage rate of $15.50 was paid for the labor of men on farms per month, in hiring by the year without board, in the United States in 1866. This average rate was maintained in 1869, after which there was an increase to $17.10 in 1875; to $18.52 in 1880 or 1881; to $19.22 in 1885; and in 1909 to $25.46. During the entire period the wage rate increased about two-thirds. From 1866 to 1909 the increase in the North Atlantic States was from $22.04 to $30.89; in the South Atlantic States, from $10.67 to $18.76; in the North Central States, from $20.39 to $30.55; in the South Central States, from $12.57 to $20.27; and in the Western States, from $40.28 to $44.35, a rate of increase in the last-mentioned group far below that of the other divisions.
The foregoing are money rates of wages, and do not include supplemental wages not expressed in money which are more or less customary in all parts of the country. Among the items of supplemental wages are use of dwelling, often with garden and accommodations for cow and swine; wood for fuel; pasture for cow, horse, or swine; and other items.
For only two years, 1866 and 1909, was the wage rate ascertained for the outdoor labor of men per month in hiring by the season without board, and the rates are higher than they are for hiring by the year. In 1866 the average rate was $18.08; in 1909, $28.22.
The highest monthly rate, in hiring by the season, paid in any geographic division in 1909 was $48.04 in the Western; after which follow in order, $35.11 in the North Atlantic; $33. 64 in the North Central; $22.48 in the South Central; and $20.86 in the South Atlantic.
During the period 1890-1906 wage rates were not ascertained for hiring by the year and season separately, but for the two combined, and the hirings were combined for 1909.
During this period monthly wage rates in hiring for the season and year combined, without board, increased from $19.45 to $27.43. The increase in the North Atlantic division was from $24.72 to $33.68; in the South Atlantic from $13.94 to $20.13; in the North Central from $22.25 to $32.90; in the South Central from $16.10 to $21.85; and in the Western from $33.96 to $47.24.
Rates per day. Every one of the nineteen investigations of the wage rates of farm labor included the rate per day in harvest work with board. At the beginning of the period, in 1866, the rate was $1.04 and the increase was to $1.18 in 1875, followed by a decline to $1.04 at the end of the industrial depression of that time, after which there was an advance continuously to $1.20 in 1882; but the depression of 1884-1886 and a period of overproduction and low prices for farm products reduced the rate below that of 1882 until, in the depression of 1893-1897, the rate was as low as 96 cents, after which there was a marked advance to $1.45 in 1906 and a rate of $1.43 in 1909.
Among the geographic divisions in 1909 the highest wage rate for harvest work with board was $2.02 in the Western States, after which follow in order, $1.87 in the North Central States; $1.62 in the North Atlantic; $1.10 in the South Central; and $1.03 in the South Atlantic.
In the North Atlantic division the rate increased throughout this period, 1866-1909, from $1.32 to $1.62; in the South Atlantic division from 79 cents to $1.03; in the North Central States from $1.31 to $1.87; in the South Central States from 92 cents to $1.10; and in the Western States from $1.93 to $2.02.
Lower rates than the foregoing were paid for day labor in other than harvest work with board. The average for the United States begins with 64 cents in 1866, followed by fluctuations similar to those of harvest wages, and ends the period in 1909 with $1.03.
The gain during the forty-four years was from 86 cents to $1.16 in the North Atlantic division; from 43 cents to 73 cents in the South Atlantic; from 83 cents to $1.32 in the North Central; and from 55 cents to 82 cents in the South Central; while on the contrary there was a decline from $1.49 in 1866 and $1.50 in 1869 to $1.48 in 1909 in the Western States.
Industrialism, trade, and transportation. Several causes affecting farm wages were investigated in 1909. In the matter that follows dependence was placed on the census of 1900, except for the rates of wages. Farm wages are high in States in which there has been large development of manufacturing, mining, mechanical pursuits, trade, and transportation in comparison with States poorly or less developed in these directions, and conversely wages are lower in those States in which agriculture is predominant than in States where it is a subordinate industry. States in which the urban population is a large percentage of the entire population are those States in which the wages of farm labor are higher than in those in which urban population is of minor account.