This article appeared in the City of Dayton Annual Report for 1942, pages 46-48
Relief – 1942 Style
Walter M. Costello
For years relief administrators have patiently listened to an age-old story – “People on relief will not work.” In the City of Dayton, during the height of the depression, there were approximately 12,000 cases, or 40,000 people, receiving public relief. Today this number has been reduced to 600 cases, or 1,800 people. People on relief will not work? The answer is self-explanatory. Only those persons are left who are unable to go into a defense industry because of age and physical disabilities.
Again an age-old theory has been proven! That people do not apply for and receive relief as a matter of choice, but rather a matter of dire need and necessity. With the advent of the war and increased industrial activity, new fields have been opened to the unemployed. Persons who were heretofore considered unemployable because of varying factors are now employed. Some are employed as watchmen, some as guards, some as clerks in department stores, some as mechanics after training, and some as skilled mechanics after undergoing apprentice work in spite of age. Yes! The relief load has been reduced to an irreducible minimum in the City of Dayton. There will always be relief? That is a matter of opinion. Even though we say now that relief is at an irreducible minimum, there still might be an opportunity to rehabilitate some of the persons now receiving relief. New opportunities have been opened. Persons who were considered semi-employable are now working full time, making way for other persons who can do lighter work. Today the job of relief is not one of giving temporary assistance, but of assistance and rehabilitation. But it still costs money! In 1934 the total cost for relief in the City of Dayton was $250,000.00 per month. Today it is $19,000.00 per month. Quite a reduction? Yes! Considered in terms of money. But the biggest factor is that this sum spent from public funds has meant existence and life to many people, plus the added inestimable factor that many people who were formerly considered derelicts on the public mar- [p. 46] ket are today contributing to the war effort, and making a definite contribution at that.
Today, thanks to the foresight of the broad-minded group of public officials who have had the courage to face a real problem and face it realistically, many people are self-respecting citizens, whereas before they were simply subjects of a dole.
In Dayton today employment opportunities are numerous – practically everyone with a desire to work can find employment. The City progresses, payrolls are higher than ever in the history of the City, and the population has swelled almost beyond capacity, but even more important is the fact that the people who were greatly criticized for accepting public assistance are today on a par with their fellow men, which only goes to prove that Americans are the same throughout the nation, willing and anxious to work if given the rightful opportunity. It has been said that every able-bodied person is entitled to the means of an honest livelihood. When that opportunity is denied, then a democratic form of government must furnish a livelihood by means of public work opportunities or a dole; preferably the former. Because this system has been provided, we have today thousands of persons in the front lines of production who would have been consigned to the scrap heap, were we inclined to listen to the critics of relief. When all these things are considered, was it not a wise investment? Isn’t it still, when we consider that there are still very definite possibilities of rehabilitation of those left on the relief rolls?
Two years ago relief officials made what they termed a conservative estimate of the total number of persons who were considered unemployable, according to standards in force at that time. That figure was placed at 2,500 families, or 8,000 persons, which would represent the irreducible minimum. Today there are 600 cases on relief in the City of Dayton. This means that 2,000 of the cases have since been rehabilitated and placed in gainful occupations. However, there is still work to be done, so that the remaining cases might become self-supporting insofar as possible. But in this work, as in everything else, there are certain handicaps. There are, of course, some cases of relief which have been long standing. Not so long ago we attempted to place a person in light work which he was able to do in spite an affliction of long standing. This plan was accomplished in coopera-[p. 47] tion with another agency specializing in this field. Although the work would not have afforded this person sufficient income for livelihood, it was felt that inasmuch as he had been a public charge for years, any income which he might earn could be supplemented by public assistance and would help greatly in building the morale of the man. However, before the plan could materialize, the man, playing on sympathy, had appealed his case to various persons throughout the city. Well-intentioned and well-meaning, folks called the relief officials to plead this man’s case, criticizing relief officials for their harsh and inhuman treatment of this particular individual. While the amount of money being spent on this particular case would neither make nor break the City of Dayton, there was a definite point of issue. The point was that of rehabilitation and self-respect. All of the efforts of the relief workers were lost because these well-meaning individuals chose to plead the case of this man. Actually, while they, in their own opinion, were performing a work of mercy, they were doing the man an injustice because they were breaking down the very thing that the man needed most. As a result, the man stated that he would no longer accept public assistance, but would depend upon the charity of his friends for his livelihood.
The job of relief is not over and will not be until all efforts at rehabilitation have been exhausted. In all cases, cooperation, sympathetic understanding, as distinguished from pure sympathy, will be needed by relief officials. When this is accomplished, relief will be ended. America will have the residue of the nation in an all-out war effort, fighting behind the lines, but nevertheless fighting.