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a tired, and a lonely girl." "The girl who is below the bread line, who is slipping weekly farther and farther into debt and misery seldom recovers from the first moral lapse.” (Illinois Report p. 31.) She feels that her fight for virtue is lost, that she is a "bad girl," and she has no heart left for the hopeless struggles against want and misery. So she makes "open sale." Here, unquestionably, it is the absolute destitution that low wages mean, that has caused the initial vulnerability to the wiles of seducers, as it has caused the subsequent continuance in immorality when the girl feels that she has nothing left to fight for.
But often a girl has no chance to "gamble” for matrimonial support. “There is testimony of authenticity scarcely to be questioned in the stenographic record of girls deliberately selling their virtue under extreme economic stress." (I11. Report, p. 28.) That is, making open sale in the first instance.
It is clear that low wages are the determining factor in all the above cases.
Was the Illinois Commission wrong in its conclusion that "thousands of girls are driven into prostitution because of their sheer inability to keep body and -soul together on the low wages received by them"? Surely, the admitted facts of American industrial life do not disprove the finding, and the Illinois Commission is prepared to back up its conclusion with plenty of evidence:
"By the testimony of the girl victims in one unbroken narrative of hopeless struggle; by the reports of their private conversation from experienced investigators; by the observations and judgments of social workers whose integrity has never been questioned; and, over and above all, by the fig. ures of what the girls are actually paid, and of what it actually costs them to live, the hideous deficit and the more hideous contemplation of how sometimes that deficit may be bridged; is your committee brought irretrievably to this finding. It is not a matter of sentiment or of emotion, or of opinion. It is the fact, cold, not nice, uncomplimentary to all of us; but nevertheless the fact.” (p. 28.)
*Report of the Senate Vice Commission, Illinois, 1916.
By I. M. RUBINOW. Of all modern countries with a high development of capitalist system of production, the United States is practically the only one without any system of social insurance for its wage workers. Of the six well defined systems of social insurance for workmen, namely: (1) against industrial accidents, . (2) against sickness, (3) against invalidity, .(4) against old age, (5) against unemployment, and (6) against premature death, or insurance of pension for widows and orphans,-only the first one has materially developed during the last five years (see article on Compensation).
As a result the American wage worker, notwithstanding his higher earning capacity is much less protected against the common emergencies of life than his German or English competitor. The only excuse for including this topic in this book is the fact that during 1915 the efforts towards introducing some such system in this country became sufficiently important to permit us to speak at least of a social insurance movement.
Of course, the American workman is not unfamiliar with the principle of insurance. Through commercial or co-operative channels he carries a very large amount of voluntary insurance, and of late employers, especially large employers, have made many efforts to establish insurance schemes within their plants, often subsidizing them substantially, and sometimes assuming the entire cost. The. most familiar co-operative channels are: the trade union funds, giving sick benefits occasionally, invalidity and old age benefits, and even unemployment benefits, though in the American labor organizations these benefit funds are much less developed than in England or Germany. A few special workingmen's benefit societies exist, giving sick and also small death benefits. These societies are largely organized by workingmen of foreign descent. Wage workers also constitute a substantial proportion of the membership of the fraternal orders, somewhat akin to the English friendly societies, but giving a good deal more life insurance and less sickness (health) insurance.
Costly Commercial Insurance. Finally in consequence of a very aggressive sell system commercial insurance has succeeded in insuring well nigh the entire 25,000,000 wage workers and their families for small death benefits, which are in reality little but funeral benefits, and because of the expensive system of weekly collection of small premiums, cost the American wage earner
some $200,000,000 a year, some 40%, or $80,000,000 being absorbed in administrative expenses.
There is even less provision for sickness, and as far as old age is concerned, there is only a small minority of workers employed by very large corporations, who have established pension systems for retirement in order to meet the problem of superannuation. Finally, practically nothing has been accomplished in unemployment insurance, since a few unions are the only channels through which some unemployment benefits are paid, and the total amount paid scarcely exceeds half a million dollars a year. The frightful distress which accompanies every period of acute unemployment from the very beginning is of course familiar to every student of labor conditions in the United States.
It is impossible to give much information of a more accurate character beyond the very general statements made above because the field of voluntary efforts towards the development of workingmen's insurance was never made the subject of any exhaustive government enquiry. The only study made by the Federal Government (23rd. Report of the U. S. Commissioner of Labor), is nearly 10 years old and is far from being complete, omitting several important branches.
Within the last two or three years, however, there has been very active discussion of the whole social insurance program and the possibilities for some favorable action in the near future have improved materially. The election of a Socialist Congressman in 1911 has brought a socialist bill for old age pensions in 1912, and though this bill was severely criticized for some of its details, it stimulated the discussion of old age provisions. As a result of the severe depressions during the winter of 1913, and following that immediately after the beginning of the war, with the extreme suffering caused by unemployment of millions, unemployment insurance loomed high in the general discussions of necessary measures for relief of the unemployed, and even appeared as an official recommendation of the numerous unemployment commissions organized at the time. In only one state did these plans go as far as the drafting of a bill and an official hearing (Mass., March 1, 1916). The change in the conditions of the labor market occasioned by the sudden appearance of European war orders, especially in the Eastern states for a time obliterated the problem of unemployment, at least from public attention.
Movement for Health Insurance. The close of the year 1915, did see, however the inauguration of a very energetic campaign for health insurance as the next step in social insurance. This is, at least, formally, due to the American Association for Labor Legislation, which had social insurance committee at work for some three years at a tentative draft of a bill. This committee succeeded in crystalizing the movement, which finds its support on one hand in the growing familiarity with accident compensation, and on the other in the British precedent of establishing, its health insurance system in 1911. Since November, 1915, when the first draft of the A. A. L. L.'s bill appeared, two more drafts, more detailed, were published, and the support found in various advanced circles is very substantial. Bills, slightly modified from the original draft, and, unfortunately, much more meager in their provision, were introduced in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. In Massachusetts the bill led to the establishment of a legislative commission for the study of health insurance, and similar action came very near being taken in New York, when the Senate voted for a commission, but the Assembly adjourned without taking any action. In California a social insurance commission was established earlier in the year, and it decided to devote its investigations primarily to the problem of health insurance.
Though active propaganda in favor of health insurance has been going on in this country for a very short time only, the progress made is considerable. An increasing number of so-called reform organizations, and primarily various national organizations interested in various lines of social progress have gone on record as favoring health insurance, or, at least, are taking active interest in the movement. These include the National Conference of Charities and Correction, the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, etc. A large number of private voluntary committees on State or local lines have been organized for the study or advocacy of health insurance. The movement is at present strongest in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and California, but some work also being done in New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, and Michigan.
It is true that the movement is at present largely limited to social workers, reformers, charity workers and similar “intellectual” groups, which come into close contact with problem of destitution and relief. But already the National Association of Manufacturers, a thoroughly reactionary body, has come out definitely in favor of compulsory health insurance. When the early history of the compensation movement in this country is analyzed, its similarity with the present stage in health insurance must be recognized and early legislation on the subject becomes almost a certainty
In view of this, the attitude of labor becomes a matter of great importance. As far as the Socialist movement is concerned, it has stood generally, though without very great enthusiasm for a complete program of social insurance. Recently interest in legislation of this type has become more active, as evidenced by a bill introduced by the Socialist Congressman Meyer London for a federal commission for the study of social insurance, which at this writing has been reported out by the Committee on Labor and has a fighting chance of favorable action.
Organized labor has taken a sceptical or non-committal attitude in so far as it is not openly hostile. This, however, has also been the early attitude towards compensation legislation. Several arguments in favor of such an attitude are made. To begin with there is the general attitude of scepticism towards all labor legislation, especially when initiated by "outsiders.” There is also objection to, and fear of, the principle of compulsion as an unwarranted interference with personal liberty. There is a suspicion entirely unwarranted by the experience of health insurance that it might lead to compulsory medical examination and rejection of sub-standard workmen from employment. There is also a fear that the establishment of a compulsory system may interfere with the benefit features of the labor organizations and in this way with the very growth of the organizations.
A good many of these fears are claimed by the advocates of health insurance to be due to a misunderstanding of the purposes and methods of compulsory social insurance. Evidently the existence of these fears places a burden of educational work upon the socialist movement which is more ready to accept the necessity of coercive and protective action through legislation.
There is, however, a more direct duty upon the Socialist movement in connection with approaching health insurance legislation. Its character, its beneficial results, its administrative methods-everything is subject to very substantial fluctuations. Whether health insurance is to become a real force for the betterment of the conditions of the wage workers life, or whether it is to remain, like the American compensation legislation, a mere sop to the wageworker, will largely depend upon the activity of the Socialist movement.
Bibliography. I. M. Rubinow, "Social Insurance”; Professor Henry Seager, “Social Insurance.”