Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/February 1892/Lessons from the Census IV
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:
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:
Philadelphia—Population by Wards.
Boston—Population by Wards.
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:
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:
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 divisions which lie farther out:
"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.