Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/February 1892/Lessons from the Census IV

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URBAN POPULATION.

LESSONS FROM THE CENSUS. IV.

By CARROLL D. WRIGHT, A. M.,

UNITED STATES COMMISSIONER OF LABOR.

THE admirable work of Mr, William C. Hunt, special agent in charge of the Population Division of the Census Office, and of Dr. John S. Billings, U. S. A., expert special agent in charge of the Division of Vital Statistics of the Census, enables one to study the relations of urban to country population, and the social statistics of cities. Taking the work of these skillful statisticians and the information which has been collected from other sources, I am able to draw a distinctive lesson relative to congested districts in cities.

In the census of 1880 urban population was defined as that element living in cities or other closely aggregated bodies of population containing eight thousand inhabitants or more. The Superintendent of the Eleventh Census remarks that "this definition of the urban element, although a somewhat arbitrary one, is used in the present discussions of the results of the eleventh census in order that they may be compared directly with those of earlier censuses." He considers the limit of eight thousand inhabitants a high one, inasmuch as most of the distinctive features of urban life are found in smaller bodies of population. According to this definition, the urban population of the United States in 1890 constituted 29·12 per cent of the total population. The following brief table gives the proportion for the several censuses since and including that of 1790:

Census Years. Population of the
United States.
Population
of cities.
Inhabitants of cities
in each 100 of the
total population.
1790 3,929,214  131,172  3·35 
1800 5,308,483  210,873  3·97 
1810 7,239,881  356,920  4·93 
1820 9,633,822  475,135  4·93 
1830 12,866,020  864,509  6·72 
1840 17,069,453  1,453,994  8·52 
1850 23,191,876  2,897,586  12·49 
1860 31,443,321  5,072,256  16·13 
1870 38,558,371  8,071,875  20·93 
1880 50,155,783  11,318,547  22·57 
1890 62,622,250  18,235,670  29·12 

It will be seen that the proportion of urban population has gradually increased from 3·35 per cent in 1790 to 29·12 per cent, or nearly one third of the total population, in 1890. The number of cities having a population of more than eight thousand increased from 6 in 1790 to 286 in 1880, since which time the number has grown to 443. New York was the only city in 1880 which had a population in excess of one million, but Chicago and Philadelphia now come into this list. The cities in 1870 which contained more than one hundred thousand inhabitants numbered 14, in 1880 they had increased to 20, and in 1890 to 28. The North Atlantic Division of States, with a population of 17,401,545, contains an urban population of 8,976,426, or 49·22 per cent of the entire urban population of the country. The population of the South Atlantic Division is 8,857,920, and the urban population is 1,420,455, or 7·79 per cent of the entire urban population of the United States. The Northern Central Division, the largest group in the country, has a total population of 22,362,279, and it has a large urban population (5,791,272), which is 31·76 per cent of the entire urban population. The Southern Central Division contains 10,972,893 inhabitants, but its urban population is small, it being 1,147,147, or 6·29 per cent of the urban population of the country. The Western Division, being the smallest group and having 3,027,613 inhabitants, has a city population of 900,370, which is 4·94 per cent of the entire urban population. While the North Atlantic Division contains nearly one half the urban population of the entire country, 51·58 per cent, or more than one half of its own population, is contained in cities of eight thousand or more inhabitants, and during the past ten years this urban element in this division has increased 43·53 per cent, while the total population has increased but 19·95 per cent. The greatest numerical increase in the urban element is to be found in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York, so far as the North Atlantic Division is concerned; so that in the States named the rural population must have actually diminished. Of course, this rapid increase in the urban population of the North Atlantic Division finds its cause in the great extension of manufactures and commerce, lines which require the aggregation of inhabitants in restricted localities. This large increase of city population is due in some degree to annexations to already existing cities, but this makes no particular difference with the fact itself, that there is a large and rapidly increasing city population as compared with the population of rural districts.

The bare statement of the facts which I have cited often causes great apprehension as to the character of our population and as to the rapid growth of the influence of cities as controlling powers in the politics of the country, and very frequently it excites the fears of students of social science relative to the supposed increased intensity of the congestion in cities of the slum population. It is upon this latter point that I have for some years made more or less examination, and with a conclusion different from that of statisticians and writers generally. The limits of this series of papers will not allow me to take up more than three of our largest cities, and I have selected those which have had the largest experience and for which I could most readily study the facts. The population by wards of the cities of New York and Philadelphia for 1870, 1880, and 1890, and for Boston for 1880 and 1890, is shown in the following tables:

New York.

Wards. 1870. 1880. 1890.
First 14,463 17,939 11,123
Second 1,312 1,608 929
Third 3,715 3,582 3,765
Fourth 23,748 20,995 17,809
Fifth 17,150 15,845 12,385
Sixth 21,153 20,196 23,119
Seventh 44,818 50,066 57,366
Eighth 34,913 35,879 31,220
Ninth 47,609 54,596 54,425
Tenth 41,431 47,554 57,596
Eleventh 64,230 68,778 75,426
Twelfth 47,496 81,800 245,046
Thirteenth 33,364 37,797 45,884
Fourteenth 26,436 30,171 28,094
Fifteenth 27,587 31,882 25,339
Sixteenth 48,359 52,188 49,134
Seventeenth 95,365 104,837 103,158
Eighteenth 59,593 66,611 63,270
Nineteenth 86,090 158,191 231,864
Twentieth 75,407 86,015 84,327
Twenty-first 56,703 66,536 63,619
Twenty-second 71,349 111,606 156,859
Twenty-third . . . . . . 28,338 53,948
Twenty-fourth. . . . . . . 13,288 20,137
 Total 942,292 1,206,299 1,515,301


Philadelphia — Population by Wards.

Wards. 1870. 1880. 1890.
First 25,817 43,082 53,882
Second 30,220 28,498 31,563
Third 19,149 18,274 19,925
Fourth 20,852 18,854 20,384
Fifth 18,736 16,372 16,987
Sixth 12,064 10,004 8,712
Seventh 31,558 31,080 30,179
Eighth 22,286 19,547 16,971
Ninth 16,629 12,481 9,791
Tenth 23,312 23,362 21,514
Eleventh 14,845 12,929 12,953
Twelfth 15,171 14,690 14,170
Thirteenth 19,956 18,646 17,923
Fourteenth 22,643 22,353 20,737
Fifteenth 44,620 47,866 52,705
Sixteenth 19,256 17,802 17,087
Seventeenth 21,347 20,451 19,546
Eighteenth 26,366 29,358 29,164
Nineteenth 45,240 43,887 55,545
Twentieth 56,642 43,207 41,480
Twenty-first 13,861 19,699 26,900
Twenty-second 22,605 31,798 45,329
Twenty-third 20,888 26,644 35,294
Twenty-fourth 24,932 46,071 42,656
Twenty-fifth 18,639 36,108 35,945
Twenty-sixth 36,603 35,138 62,138
Twenty-seventh 19,385 23,333 32,905
Twenty-eighth 10,370 34,443 46,390
Twenty-ninth . . . . . . 40,787 54,739
Thirtieth . . . . . . 29,098 30,614
Thirty-first . . . . . . 31,308 32,974
Thirty-second . . . . . . . . . . . . 30,050
Thirty-third . . . . . . . . . . . . 33,171
Thirty-fourth . . . . . . . . . . . . 23,721
 Total 674,022 847,170 1,046,964


Boston — Population by Wards.

Wards. 1880. 1890. Wards. 1880. 1890.
First 14,773 19,633 Fifteenth 14,902 18,049
Second 15,153 17,297 Sixteenth 15,184 18,048
Third 11,514 13,094 Seventeenth 14,445 15,638
Fourth 11,257 12,842 Eighteenth 13,142 16,035
Fifth 10,960 12,412 Nineteenth 19,971 23,016
Sixth 16,904 18,447 Twentieth 17,391 24,335
Seventh 12,550 13,145 Twenty-first 14,711 22,930
Eighth 12,792 13,026 Twenty-second 12,715 20,011
Ninth 12,611 12,660 Twenty-third 14,032 24,997
Tenth 11,503 8,205 Twenty-fourth 16,871 29,638
Eleventh 16,602 21,660 Twenty-fifth 6,693 12,032
Twelfth 14,696 12,585
Thirteenth 21,462 22,375  Total 362,839 448,477
Fourteenth 20,005 26,367      

Wards 1 and 2 comprise East Boston; Wards 3, 4, and 5 comprise Charlestown; Wards 13, 14, and 15 comprise South Boston.

The population of Boston by wards for 1870 can not be stated, because the geographical boundaries of wards were changed in 1875 ; but other data relative to Boston can be used for the illustration of the point I desire to make. In the other cities named, New York and Philadelphia, the geographical boundaries of wards have been identical under the last three Federal censuses. From the foregoing tables I have combined what might be called the "congested" wards of each of the cities. Eliminating these from all the wards, and constructing a new table, we have the facts relative to the population for all wards for the years named, for the congested wards stated separately, and for the remaining wards, in each of the cities. This table is as follows:

Population. Gain.
1870 to 1890.
Percentage
of gain.
1870 to 1890.
1870. 1880. 1890.
New York.
Total all wards 942,292 1,206,299 1,515,301 573,009 60·81
Total congested wards[1] 545,633 593,314 596,831 51,178 9·38
Total remaining wards 396,639 612,385 918,470 521,831 131·56
Philadelphia.
Total all wards 674,022 847,170 1,046,964 372,942 55·33
Total congested wards[2] 436,272 401,795 407,631 [3]28,641 6·56
Total remaining wards 237,750 445,375 639,333 401,593 168·91
Boston. 1880 to 1890.
Total all wards . . . . . . 362,839 448,477 85,638 23·60
Total congested wards[4] . . . . . . 98,074 99,094 1,020 1·04
Total remaining wards . . . . . . 264,765 349,383 84,618 31·96
Boston.
Total 250,526 362,839 448,477 197,921 79+
Boston proper 138,781 147,075 161,330 22,549 16+
Annexations 111,745 215,764 287,147 175,402 156+

A study of this last table throws great light upon the supposed concentration of population in the slums of the cities named. In New York the increase in the congested wards (and I have taken for this purpose all the wards south of Fourteenth Street) was in the twenty years from 1870 to 1890 but 51,178, or 9·38 per cent; while the increase for the whole city for the twenty years was 573,009, or 60·81 per cent. The remaining wards, or those north of Fourteenth Street, were the territory where nearly all this last-named gain took place. It was 531,831, or a gain from 1870 to 1890 of 131·56 per cent. Certainly during the twenty years there has been no perceptible increase of population in the congested territory described.

Turning to Philadelphia, and taking the compact wards, we find there has been a loss in the twenty years of 28,611, or 6·56 per cent, the wards other than the congested wards showing a gain of 101,583, or 168·91 per cent, while the total gain for the whole city was 372,912, or 55·33 per cent.

Similar conditions are shown for Boston. In the first section of the preceding table relating to Boston the population for 1880 and 1890 only is given, as explained. This shows that in the ten years named the congested wards, which include all the slum population of the city, the gain was only 1,020, or 1·04 per cent; while in the remaining wards there was a gain of 84,618, or 31·96 per cent. The second section of the table relating to Boston shows the population for 1870, 1880, and 1890 for the whole city — for Boston proper, that is, the old city territory prior to any of its annexations, and the population of the annexations. In the twenty years the population of Boston gained, including all, 197,921, or 79+ per cent; the old city proper gained but 22,549, or 16+ per cent; while the population of the annexations increased 175,402, or 156+ per cent, in the twenty years.

These facts certainly remove all apprehension as to the increase of the slum population of the cities named, and I submit that it is perfectly reasonable that the population of such districts can not increase; and that, while there is a great setting of people toward our cities, they are found as a rule among the suburban population, in healthy sanitary districts; and that whatever influx there is to the slum localities is entirely offset by the outgoing people from such districts.

After collecting the material for this chapter, my attention was called to an exceedingly valuable article in the October Contemporary Review, by Mr. Sidney J. Low, entitled The Rise of the Suburbs. Mr. Low, taking his figures from the recent census of England, that of last spring, makes a table of some of the typical districts of inner London, on both sides of the river, with their rates of increase or decrease since 1881, which is as follows:

 District Rate of Increase or
decrease per cent.
City of London 25·5 decrease.
Westminster 19·9 "
Strand 18·2 "
St. Giles 12·1 "
St. George, Hanover Square 10·4 "
Holborn 6·8 "
St. George-in-the-East 3·4 "
Shoreditch 2·0 "
Bethnal Green 1·7 increase.
Mile End 1·8 "
St. Olave, Southwark 1·4 "
Kensington 4·9 "
Whitechapel 4·3 "

In regard to these districts, Mr. Low remarks that some of them are wealthy residental districts, while many of them are poor and others altogether poverty-stricken. "Bethnal Green. Whitechapel, St. Olave, Southwark, and parts of St. Pancras, St. Giles, and Holborn," he says, "are tinted with a very dark brush on Mr. Charles Booth's excellent comparative maps of London poverty." And he further says: "It is not unsatisfactory to find that the dwellers in these localities are obeying the great law of centrifugal attraction, and quitting the inner recesses of the metropolis to find homes in the outskirts. The people who leave Hatton Garden, and Commercial Street, and Hoxton, and Seven Dials, either forced out by 'improvements' or voluntarily retiring, do not go to the country — that we know well enough; nor do the country folks come in to take their places in any large numbers. For the immigrant from the congested districts of the town, and for the emigrant from the decaying rural parishes, we must look to the suburbs; and we find him there, if figures can tell us anything. Compare, with the list just given of stationary or declining areas in central London, the statistics for a few of the regisration divisions which lie farther out:

District Increase per
cent since 1881
Camberwell 26·1
Woolwich 32·8
Wandsworth 46·1
Hampstead 50·5
Fulham 64·5
Tottenham 95·0
Willesden 121·9
Leyton 133·5

"Here is where the increase of 'Greater London,' with its five and a half millions of inhabitants, is found. It is not, as hasty observers have imagined, in the teeming alleys of 'Darkest London,' or in the warren of rabbit-hutches which spreads for a mile or two north and south of the Thames. The center of population is shifting from the heart to the limbs. The life-blood is pouring into the long arms of brick and mortar and cheap stucco that are feeling their way out to the Surrey moors and the Essex flats and the Hertfordshire copses. Already 'Outer London' is beginning to vie in population with the 'Inner Ring'; a few decades hence, and it will have altogether passed it."

These figures for different portions of London are exceedingly significant, and show precisely the same conditions as are shown by the facts which I have already grouped relative to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, and they show conclusively that the movement is greatly different from what it is often supposed to be. To again quote Mr. Low: "The population is not shifting from the fields to the slums; and the slums themselves are not becoming fuller, but the reverse. So far from the heart of the city being congested with the blood driven from the extremities, we find, on the contrary, that the larger centers of population are stationary, or thinning down; it is the districts all round them which are filling up. The greatest advance in the decade is shown not in the cities themselves, but in the ring of suburbs which spread into the country about them. If the process goes on unchecked, the Englishman of the future will be of the city but not in it. The son and grandson of the man from the fields will neither be a dweller in the country nor a dweller in the town. He will be a suburb-dweller. The majority of the people of this island will live in the suburbs; and the suburban type will be the most widespread and characteristic of all, as the rural has been in the past and as the urban may perhaps be said to be in the present." This aspect of affairs is perfectly reasonable, and is the only condition that could have been expected. It should be remembered that the cities named are great mercantile and manufacturing centers, their prosperity developing rapidly, and it should also be remembered that the rapidity of the development of cities in commercial or industrial ways retards the growth of population in the compact quarters to a very large degree. Every time an advance is made along a street by the extension of business houses, the families living there are crowded out; they may move to other parts of the city or locate in the suburbs; in either event there is only a shifting of population, and not an increase. The transfer of great manufacturing establishments from the city to the country carries large numbers of families, or if the transfer is made within the city limits there is simply a change in location of the population interested in the establishment. In taking the Federal census of 1880 for the State of Massachusetts I discovered a loss in one of the wards of the city of Boston; but I found upon investigation that the removal of one establishment from that ward to another in a distant part of the city had carried with it more than one thousand people; so the increase in the population of the part of the city to which the removal was made apparently indicated growth. Cities lay out new streets and avenues, necessitating the tearing down of rookeries and crowded tenement-houses. Every such improvement displaces a large number of families, who seek a residence either in some other part of the city or in the suburbs. Thus, the building of a large number of houses, often referred to as an evidence of increase of population, may not mean any increase whatever. If a hundred families are crowded out of their old locations by improvements or by the encroachments of trade, there is an immediate demand for a hundred new tenements, which makes it appear that the population is increasing rapidly, when there is no increase. That the argument that new houses always indicate an increase of population is unanswerable can not be admitted, for very frequently the reverse is true; even in a country town a new house or a dozen new houses may not indicate an increase of a single person in the population, as it may be entirely the result of the improved financial condition of one or several families formerly living in the same house. The building of new houses is an indication of prosperity and of increase, but not positive evidence of increase. The retarding influence of the increase of trade and of manufactures must be felt more and more as their extension becomes more rapid, and in all great cities where large business blocks are erected in place of crowded tenements there must be a dispersion of population.

I think that what has been said in regard to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, and of the city of London, would prove true of any large commercial or manufacturing center. The encouragement to be drawn from this state of facts is great indeed, and should relieve the popular mind of the constant fear of the increase of the slums of our great cities. I wish that an investigation might be made that would show the exact number, character, and condition of the people living in the slums, and whether the geographical territory inhabited by the slums is being enlarged, or whether the actual number on restricted territory is being increased. Such an investigation, whatever it might show, would be of immense value in the study of urban population.


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  1. First to seventeenth inclusive, except the twelfth, which is an outlying ward.
  2. Second to twentieth inclusive, except the fifteenth.
  3. Loss
  4. The sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth, twelfth, sixteenth, and seventeenth.