Fear of Poverty in the Guilded Age Essay

Submitted By punkguy82
Words: 646
Pages: 3

Fear of Poverty in the Gilded Age

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States began a transformation from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation. Millions of white and black Americans, as well as immigrants, began filling urban areas in order to work in factories and mills. With new employment came new wealth, both for the “robber barons” and industrial elite, as well as the new burgeoning middle class. “The world was, for the first time, a market where every need could be met, every idea coaxed into fruition.” [1] However, while Americans filled cities seeking wealth, many did not attain it. “In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year…the average income was $380, well below the poverty line.” [2] By observing the trends in consumerism, women workers, and political corruption, the biggest fear of Americans during the Gilded Age was poverty and missing the American economic revolution. As farming began to reap less financial success, Americans filled cities like New York and Chicago, seeking industrial employment. Although living conditions declined and overcrowding occurred, they kept coming, eager to take part in the industrial boom. By 1899, 1.7 million people lived in Chicago. [3] This was “an era when consumers, whether seeking a car or company for the night, were becoming royalty.” [4] The vice market grew from this new population and wealth. In 1872, after the Great Fire of 1871 in Chicago, “the city granted 2,218 saloon licenses – approximately 1 to every 150 citizens.” [5] While Americans eagerly taking part in the economic gains of industrialization, they were spending just as eagerly. Blevins 2
The most notable fear of poverty existed in women, who for the first time entered employment en masse. They too, wanted to take part in the expanding consumerism. “Some women joined the life (prostitution) not out of financial necessity, but from a desire of upward mobility.” [6] Still, many found jobs in factories and brothels in order to make ends meet, “burdened with supporting parents, siblings, and children.” [7] Brothels became a source of better income to many. “The $35 per week that one made as a whore…far exceeded the $6 she could earn in a factory.” [8] The Gilded Age in industrialized cities meant corruption. While many saw this corruption take place, many more saw the separation of the vice market from “normal” society acceptable. To allow such a large-scale illegal market to persist, corruption took place. The Everleigh sisters spent approximately $10,000 a year in order to buy legal protection for their brothel. [9] Ike Bloom, a man notorious