« AnteriorContinuar »
Their action may pauperize a people by giving them for nothing money or money's worth in such fashion as to weaken ambition and independence and so tend to perpetuate evil conditions; by making people contented when they should have a righteous discontent; or they may open opportunities for education and self-help which shall result in strengthening character and fostering worthy ideals of freedom and independence for all men, and not for themselves alone.
In this study of the volume and cost of social work in nineteen cities there are facts which raise important questions. I do not say that the study answers these questions. When we deal with human beings we may know with some certainty what may affect their bodies, but it behooves us to be very humble when we touch their souls. Moreover, the effect upon bodies, which are mortal, is of comparatively minor consequence as compared with the effect on souls, which are immortal.
Speaking with all humility, we can assert with confidence that there is danger in giving for nothing material things, or even services which may be purchased. There is less danger in freely rendering services which are not purchasable.
It is worthy of note that among the nineteen cities for which the income and cost of social work is recorded, those which spend much on dependency receive most from public revenue. In the last ten years there has been a large increase, measured by pre-war dollars, in the amount of money given away by family societies in many cities in relief to dependent families. That is true both for those in cities, which give an increasing amount in outdoor relief from public funds, and in those cities which give little or no outdoor relief. During this same period there has been a constant improvement in the quality and quantity of the service rendered to individual families, having regard to the need, environment, character, and condition of each family. There has been a consistent effort to reduce the number of families under the care of each worker, with intent to give a more intelligent, informed, and better service.
Ten years ago the leaders of thought among family social workers believed that with the improvement in the service rendered the need for material relief would lessen. During this same period more and more study has been given by home economists to the needs of men, women, and children as reflected in family budgets. The rapid growth of public health nursing and the emphasis put by health workers on the need for the right kind and quantity of food have probably had some influence in increasing family budgets. Whereas not many years ago social workers rather regarded relief giving as an unfortunate necessity and no more, their study has led them to believe that adequate relief may be made an important element in the improvement of the family in respect to its character as well as health. Relief, like strychnine, is a valuable remedy when prescribed in proper doses for those who need it.
Not many years ago, in the best family societies, the number of trained
workers in proportion to the families under care was small. The average number of families per worker was often as high as seventy or more. Of late years about forty has been deemed the greatest number that one worker could serve efficiently, and even then only a small proportion of the forty could be given intensive care. Under ordinary conditions at the present time a large proportion, often 75 per cent or more, of money expended for relief is given to those families to which it is expected that material relief will be given for a considerable period of time, and are classed as what are called allowance families. The amount spent today on what is called emergent relief is a small proportion of the total. In such a period as the hard times of 1915 the proportion was probably reversed, or nearly so. At all events, a much larger proportion of the total sum expended for the material relief was of the emergent character than at the present time. During a period of unemployment this was due partly to lack of money for relief, partly to the small number of workers in proportion to the number of families served, partly because many clients could manage their own affairs with temporary financial assistance.
Family societies from time to time have been confronted by increasing demands for help and service and what appeared to be their inability to get money enough to render the service as they would wish to render it or to give material relief in amounts sufficient to meet what they regarded as proper family budgets. On this subject I can speak with feeling because I have been confronted with these conditions day by day for a number of years past. When we confront these problems it is well to realize that human nature, with all its marvelous differences, has underlying springs of action that are essentially the same. We, all of us, spend more liberally on ourselves as our income increases. We, all of us, are disposed to spend more liberally on others when we dip into what seems to be an inexhaustible purse than if we were obliged to spend time and energy and give ourselves in the pursuit of the money.
Automobile manufacturers assure us that a gallon of gasoline will drive their car a certain number of miles. If road conditions remain reasonably constant they probably tell the truth. Even in this mechanical computation there are factors of uncertainty. How much more in human affairs are there factors of uncertainty. We cannot classify human beings as we can classify machines. We try to make family budgets with due allowance for all human factors, and I have no doubt whatever that our capable home economists know much more than was known twenty years ago as to what should be expended for food, clothes, and shelter by families of various kinds and composed of persons of varying ages.
Family workers today would devote some part of the family income to insurance and to recreation and for such expenditures which would once have been deemed luxuries. They make very convincing arguments. Everyone will agree that it is wrong to leave the family habitually undernourished, to let them be housed in dwellings that menace health, and to subject them to harassing
anxiety as to where the next meal shall come from. Everyone familiar with family work will agree that there should be a sufficient number of trained workers to make such a study of family conditions as will result in the largest possible part of the support of the family being derived from its own earnings, and second, from those persons upon whom it has a natural claim by reason of relationship by blood or any other tie which imposes obligation to help. On the other hand, when we meet some financial stress and strain is it possible to say, between the extreme of starvation on the one hand and unnecessary abundance on the other, just what amount of money shall be spent on any one family so long as another family may be suffering danger of starvation, or what may, perhaps, be a still greater danger-the temptation to resort to indiscriminate begging. When a city is confronted by famine and pestilence it must mobilize its resources; it must spread them out very thin; indeed, there may be soup kitchens and bread lines, as in Russia after the war and in other parts of Europe. When we are dealing with human beings it is impossible to lay down precise rules to meet all conditions. We are human. Our clients are human. Let us apply to all our problems the same principles taught to the family social worker, which are that we shall deal with each human problem on its merits, with the object of obtaining the best possible result in view of the peculiar conditions of each problem that is presented to us.
For the family workers it is disagreeable, but it is helpful, to be obliged to take serious thought about every dollar spent. If money comes too easily it is inevitable that it will be spent too easily. Easy spending is certain to be damaging to the beneficiaries in the long run. On the other hand-it is so important that it should be stated again—it is bad for the beneficiaries if they are to be served by one who is worn out in the struggle to serve too many families at the same time. It is bad for the beneficiaries to be kept in a state of semistarvation of body or mind or both.
Among the nineteen cities dealt with in the special study there are some that, on the face of the figures, would seem to be approaching an ideal in respect to health care. They spend the largest sum per capita for health and they get the largest proportion from those who pay for what they get. It is unfortunately true, however, that a very small fraction of the earnings of any of the hospitals and dispensaries comes from the out-patient departments. Taking all the hospitals together, the in-patients paid 50 per cent more than the total income received from other sources, whereas the out-patients paid less than one-sixth as much as was received from other sources.
The earned income of public health nursing is just about the same proportion of the total income as the earnings of the out-patient departments of hospitals. Even in those cities in which earnings of hospitals are very large, the earnings from out-patients is very small. Hospitals are under an unfortunate necessity, that they must inquire whether a person is destitute in order to determine whether he should pay his bills or not. May we not welcome the estab
lishment of clinics in which all must pay a sum sufficient to support the clinic, even though there may be need for clinics in which no one will be required to pay? Let us not forget that fundamental defect in human nature, of delight in getting something for nothing. It is nearly universal. It is not an appetite which should be encouraged.
We may turn with satisfaction to the table of the report which sets forth the income of character-building agencies. The earned income exceeds the unearned income. Of course it ought to exceed it, and in some of the cities it very greatly exceeds it. No account is taken here of the fact that a good many of these institutions own their buildings and that they are generally free from taxation. We need not be distressed about that. Those of us who had the privilege of going to college did not begin to pay what our education cost. It seems to be the fact that we may be the beneficiaries of the gifts of the past that erected buildings and established endowments without loss of self-respect, and so it may well be with character-building institutions; but the nearer they can come to obtaining current support for current expenses, the better it will be for their beneficiaries.
Under existing conditions money spent on planning common service and the coordination of effort is free from the danger of encouraging dependency. It is hard to see that that expenditure can do any harm, and it may do great good.
From the figures I have quoted as to per capita income it is reasonably evident that there is money enough in every city to support needed social work. If the per capita income is no more than $600 a year it may be that only onefourth of the persons who receive their share of that income have enough to give anything. That being so, three-fourths of the persons receive less than the average, and one-fourth receive more. The per capita income of those who receive more would average at least $1,000, which means a family income of at least $4,000 or $5,000. If, then, we assume that the more prosperous quarter of the community can give to social work half of its tithe, we would have the equivalent of $12.50 per capita for the entire community devoted to social work, which is more than five times as much as the per capita contributions of the nineteen cities for which we have statistics, and more than three times as much as in the city which makes the largest per capita contributions for social work. It is not enough that the need shall exist; it is necessary that it must appear to those who can give that it does exist. Moreover, some people are trained in the habit of giving and some are not. We are the inheritors, all of us, of the history and traditions of the Jewish people. Early in their recorded history they were taught to devote at least 10 per cent of their income to the support of the synagogue, and something over for the needy. Tithing is more or less traditional in the Christian church. It is a good rule for everyone to set aside some definite part of his income, be it a tithe or more, or, if absolutely needful, less. We have seen that the income in total is enough. It may well be objected that a large per
centage of the people have only a sum sufficient for absolute necessities, and can spare nothing for others. I doubt whether there is anyone so poor that he cannot appropriate something for others; but however many those people may be, there are in all of our cities today people who can afford to give more than a tenth of their income, and many who do give much more than a tenth. I had the privilege of knowing one good man, now gone to his great reward, who was said to give more than two-thirds of his income. According to our standards he might be thought very rich; according to the standards of a great metropolitan community he was not extremely rich. His annual gifts would more than make good the tithe of a thousand men whose earnings were only a bare living.
We have much to do to inculcate the habit of giving, for the benefit both of the giver and the beneficiary. It may well be, where income for social work seems inadequate, that sometimes the need is not made clear enough, and, sometimes, that the plan for spending money ought not to meet with enthusiastic approval. In every community there must be a proper balance in the proposed budget, and that balance must have regard not only to the conditions in each community and the amount that should be spent for the various classes of work and for the various classes of beneficiaries, but it also must have regard to the habits and customs and scale of life of that community. In a rich community with a reasonable distribution of wealth it may be right and proper to spend much more on certain classes of beneficiaries than in a poor community. It is probably true that in the United States there is no city which cannot afford to do everything for those who are in need that the habits and customs of that community render reasonable and proper to be devoted to that use. A community could be pauperized as well as an individual. We owe a responsibility to all alike. We must afford opportunity to give wisely. We must demonstrate to potential givers the wisdom of the plan. We must not coerce men into giving when they are not moved to give. At some time and at some place there has been a pressure brought to bear that is evil both for those upon whom the pressure is brought and for those for whom it is brought. Offerings must be free-will offerings to bless them that give and them that receive.
Far be it from me to say one word that could be interpreted as counseling the reduction of contributions. Very few people indeed give more than they should. Every one of us is interested in social agencies, which we firmly believe could spend more money wisely. The dangers against which we must guard ourselves and the community are dangers in spending. From time to time we must assess what we spend by the results achieved in the increase of self-reliance and independence among our clients. Money may be spent for backward communities and for weak people, provided always the spirit of the giver is imbued with charity and the gift to each community and to each human being brings a little nearer the time when that community can give to other communities less favored than itself and each human being shall be more able and more willing to do for others.