So great is the risk of defective, sickly, or intemperate employees, that in some trades employers take every precaution to exclude them. One man with defective eyesight or unsteady nerves may cost a railroad thousands of dollars. As insurance companies rank trades as first-, second-, or third-class risks, so many factories, from long experience, debar men with certain characteristics which have been found detrimental to business. The Interborough Rapid Transit Company of New York City examines all applicants for employment, as to age, weight, height, keenness of vision, hearing, color perception, lungs, hearts, arteries, alcoholism, and nicotinism. Those who fall below the standard are rejected, but in each case the physical condition is explained to the applicant. Where defects are removable or correctable, the applicant is told what to do and invited to take another test after treatment. Moreover, accepted employees are periodically reexamined. While designed to increase company profits and to reduce company losses, this examination obviously decreases the employees' losses also, and increases the certainty of work and prospect of promotion.
Our states, and many of our industries, still have the attitude of a certain manufacturer who employs several hundred boys and girls. I asked him what tests he employed. "I look over a long line of the applicants and say," pointing his finger, "I want you, and you, and you; the rest may go." I asked him if he made a point of picking out those who looked strong. "No. The work is easy, sitting down all day long and picking over things. I select those whose faces I like. Yes, there is one question we now ask of all the girls. One day a girl in the workroom had an epileptic fit and it frightened everybody and upset the work so that the foreman always asks, 'Do you have fits? Because if you do, you can't work here.'" He makes no attempt to determine the physical fitness and endurance of the children employed, because when the strength of one is spent there is always another to step into her place.
Because the apprentice's future is of no value to the manufacturer, the state must restrict the manufacturer's freedom to spend like water society's capital,—the health of the coming generation. Could there be a grosser mis-management of society's business than to permit trade to waste children on whose education society spends so many millions yearly? The most effective and most timely remedy is physical examination as a condition of the work certificate. A simple, easily applied, inexpensive measure that imposes only a legitimate restriction upon individual freedom, it is absolutely necessary in order to get to the bottom of the child labor problem. If thoroughly applied, children of the nation will no longer be exploited by unscrupulous or indifferent employers, nor will their health be hazarded by lack of discriminating examination that rejects the obviously sick and favors the apparently robust. Furthermore, knowledge that this test will be applied when work certificates are required, will be an incentive to the school boy and girl to keep well. Tell a boy that adenoids or weak lungs will keep him from getting a job, and you will make him a strong advocate of operation and of fresh air. Show him that his employers will not wish his services when his week is out if he is physically below par, and he will gladly submit to a board of health examination and ask to be told what his defects are and how to correct them.
Children At Work Below Both Age Limit And Vitality Limit National Child Labor Committee
Some there are who will object to this appeal to the child's economic instinct. This objection does not remove the instinct. The normal child is greedy for a job. His greed, as well as that of the manufacturer and parent, is responsible for much of the child labor; his greed for activity, for association, for money, and so for work. A little boy came into my office and wanted to hire as an office boy. I looked at him and said: "My little fellow, you ought to be in school. What do you want to hire out here for?" He said, "I am tired of school; nothing doing." He doesn't care about work for its own sake; he doesn't care about wealth for its own sake; he wants to get into life; to be where there is "something doing." In this lies one potent argument for vocational training. To tell a boy of his physical needs just before he has taken his first business step is to put him everlastingly in our debt. Then he is responsive, and, fortunately for the extreme cases, necessarily dependent, for he knows that his refusal would stand between himself and his ambition.
When boys and girls go for work certificates to Dr. Goler, medical officer of health at Rochester, he requires not merely evidence of age and of schooling, but examines their eyes for defective vision and for disease, their teeth for cavities and unhealthy gums, and their noses and throats for adenoids and enlarged tonsils. If a boy has sixteen decayed teeth, Dr. Goler explains to him that teeth are meant to be not only ornaments and conveniences, but money getters as well. The boy learns that decayed teeth breed disease, contaminate food, interfere with digestion, make him a disagreeable companion and a less efficient worker. If he will go and have them put into proper condition he will enjoy life better and earn good wages sooner. After the teeth are attended to the boy secures his work certificate. If the boy's mother protests in tears or in anger that her boy does not work with his teeth, she learns what she never learned at school, that sound teeth help pay the rent. If a girl applicant for working papers has adenoids, she is asked to look in the mirror and to notice how her lips fail to meet, how the lower jaw drops, how much better she looks with her jaws and lips together.